Obesity Genetic Testing May Not Discourage Weight Loss
September 5, 2013

Genetic Testing Unlikely To Discourage People From Losing Weight

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Undergoing obesity-related genetic testing does not make people less likely to lose weight, and could even reduce some of the feelings of self-blame commonly associated with failed attempts to become fit, claims research appearing in the Journal of Genetic Counseling.

Previous studies have demonstrated that a person’s genes can play a role in whether or not he or she becomes overweight. One gene in particular, known as FTO, has been found to be the most influential thus far, according to researchers from the University College London Health Behavior Research Centre.

FTO has two variants: A, which is associated with greater risk of weight gain, and T, which has been linked with a reduced risk of obesity. Those who inherit two A variants (one from each parent) are 70 percent more likely to become obese than those with two T variants, and even those with one A variant are more likely to be overweight.

Currently, medical experts can use a gene test to detect FTO, though the test is not currently commercially available. However, it was uncertain how people would react to learning the results of the test, according to the UCL team. Some believed that it would increase an individual’s motivation to manage their weight, while others believed that they would chalk up their obesity as genetic destiny and give up, thinking they were powerless to get in shape.

Professor Jane Wardle and PhD student Susanne Meisel recruited 18 men and women of various weights (ranging from underweight to obese) as part of the Cancer Research UK-funded study. Each participant was tested for his or her FTO status, and was then interviewed about the experience.

“These results are encouraging. Regardless of gene status or weight, all the volunteers recognized that both genes and behavior are important for weight control,” Meisel, who led the study, said in a statement. “The results indicate that people are unlikely to believe that genes are destiny and stop engaging with weight control once they know their FTO status. Although they knew that FTO’s effect is only small, they found it motivating and informative. We are now doing a larger study to confirm whether more people react in the same way.”

“The causes of obesity are multiple and complex, and this research is encouraging for those who struggle with their weight. Although we know genetics play a part in weight, people can learn strategies to deal with this increased risk for weight gain, so finding out you carry the high-risk version of the gene shouldn’t mean you surrender to fate,” added Dr. Laura McGowan, Executive Director of the nonprofit UK anti-obesity charity Weight Concern.