People With 'Obesity Gene' Don't Have A Harder Time Losing Weight Than Everyone Else

A gene notorious for making us vulnerable to obesity won’t necessarily hamper our attempts to shed extra pounds, indicates new research published Tuesday in The BMJ.

Researchers reviewed eight randomized controlled weight loss trials that together studied over 9,000 people. They specifically looked at trials that identified people with a particular variant of the FTO gene known as the FTO minor allele. Though individuals with the allele were slightly heavier prior to their respective trials than others, there was no difference when it came to weight loss success — people with the allele lost just as much weight on average as similarly matched people without it.

“These findings show that individuals carrying the minor allele respond equally well to dietary, physical activity, or drug based weight loss interventions,” the authors concluded, and further suggested that the added risk of obesity linked to the gene “can be at least partly counteracted through such interventions.”

Runner Lacing up your running shoes in hopes of losing weight isn't fruitless even if you carry a gene linked to obesity, finds a new review. Pixabay, Public Domain

The FTO (fat mass and obesity associated) gene is among the few genes concretely connected to obesity risk. People with two copies of the minor allele are 70 percent more likely to develop obesity and weigh on average 6 pounds heavier than people with the lowest risk variants, according to research cited by the authors. But the verdict on whether the FTO gene can influence someone’s chances of losing weight has been mixed, with some studies finding it may actually help with weight loss and others finding no effect. More recently, a review of weight loss studies published earlier this February found that carriers of the FTO gene lost a pound more than people without it.

While the current review examined many of the same studies as the one in February, the authors made sure to look only at randomized and controlled trials, often considered the gold standard of scientific research. According to them, they also performed a more extensive analysis of the data. Both of these factors may have accounted for the slightly different conclusions found by the two reviews, they wrote.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the FTO gene’s role in general weight management. Some, but not all, research has shown that the high-risk variant may hinder people in maintaining their weight loss and increase the chances of weight regain. How it does this might be completely different from how it leads us down the path to obesity, the authors noted.

Considering how difficult sustained weight loss can be, though, it’s at least encouraging to know that our genes can't actually prevent us from losing weight.

Source: FTO genotype and weight loss: systematic review and meta-analysis of 9563 individual participant data from eight randomised controlled trials. The BMJ. 2016.

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