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Physical Activity Counteracts Effect of Obesity Causing Gene

Physical Activity Counteracts Effect of Obesity Causing Gene

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  • FTO gene variants are associated with how an individual processes fat from the diet. People with certain variants of the gene are found to have an increased risk for obesity.
  • The current study shows that physical exercise can modify the effect of the gene and lower the risk of obesity.
  • Based on the gene variant carried by an individual, the level of exercise may be determined.

Energy Balance

This occurs when there is harmony between energy intake and energy expenditure. Certain genetic variations increase the risk of obesity, but a recent research by scientists from The University of Carolina has found that physical activity could modify the effect of these genes. The study that was published in the journal PLOS Genetics could provide an effective means of modifying the effect of certain gene variations, without the need for invasive techniques.

Energy Imbalance

This occurs when people tend to eat more than they 'lose' energy and leading physically inactive or sedentary lifestyles. This has led to a global epidemic, where there are more number of people who are obese. However, not everyone is gaining similar amounts of weight.

Genome Wide Association Study (GWAS)

Dr. Mariaelisa Graff and colleagues from The University of North Carolina studied the effect on physical activity on the genetic variations that are associated with weight gain. A genome wide interaction meta- analysis was carried out on 200,000 individuals.

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Physical Activity Counteracts Effect of Obesity Causing Gene

The study involved
  • Characterization of the study participants into active or inactive groups
  • Screening of nearly 2.5 million genetic variants
  • Correlating the information with attributes like body mass index (BMI), waist to hip ratio and other indicators of obesity.
The study showed that
  • Physical activity lowered the effects of the gene that is well known for its association with weight gain- FTO.
  • There was reduction in the weight gaining effect of FTO by 30%
  • There were 11 novel gene variants associated with altering the risk of obesity that were identified.
The current study showed that environmental interactions like physical activity should be studied along with gene variations. Though it was found that physical activity could lower the effect of the FTO genes, the underlying mechanism is not fully understood.

Physical Activity and Effect of Gene Variant

Certain gene variants are known to increase the risk for obesity but the current study has shown that inheriting such gene variants does not doom the individual into a life of being overweight or obese. Instead, it sheds light on factors like physical activity which could lower the effect of the gene. Understanding the gene variant that an individual carries can be used to alter their risk for obesity by recommending optimum amount of physical activity. This will help them modify the effect of their genes. Such tailor-made recommendations can be used for personalized nutrition.

Dr. Mariaelisa Graff said that there were 11 new genes that were identified and that further studies could reveal more genes that were associated with obesity.


The Global Nutrition Report is developed to understand the nutrition levels of various countries across the world. According to the Global Nutrition Report for 2016
  • India ranked 11th among obesity in children below 5
  • India ranked 21 in adult obesity
The report also suggested that obesity levels were growing at an alarming rate among people who lived in middle and low income countries. To curb these alarming trends in obesity, it is important to understand the underlying factors that contribute to the increase. The current study would aid in identifying people at high risk of obesity by determining the genes that they carry and recommending appropriate exercises.

FTO Gene

In a study titled "FTO gene SNPs associated with extreme obesity in cases, controls and extremely discordant sister pairs" by R Arlen Price and colleagues, a genome wide association study showed that there was an association between FTO gene variation and obesity. A strong association was identified between the FTO gene and body fat accumulation.

This gene is associated with fat sensitivity, it determines how fat is digested by the body. People with certain variants of the gene tend to have greater BMI and body fat percentage than people with other variants of the gene. Studies showed that these effects were greater when such people consumed a high fat diet, requiring such people to consume a low fat diet.

This study that showed that the effect of high risk FTO gene variants could be modified by physical activity. This could pave the way for optimizing exercise and dietary practices to lead a healthier life. Personalized nutrition and fitness plans that are based on the gene variations inherited by an individual will cater to the specific needs of the individual.

References :
  1. FTO Gene - (http://www.genecards.org/cgi-bin/carddisp.pl?gene=FTO)
  2. Low and middle income countries have seen greatest rise in obese children between 1990 and 2014: Report - (http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/india-must-tackle-high-rate-of-obesity-diabetes-global-nutrition-report-of-2016-54434)
  3. India must tackle high rate of obesity, diabetes: Global Nutrition Report of 2016 - (http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/low-and-middle-income-countries-have-seen-greatest-rise-in-obese-children-between-1990-and-2014-report-52599)

Source: Medindia

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