The Fat Gene Controversies

February 24, 2009

We notice that some people are overweight in spite of eating very less while some do not gain weight at all regardless of what they eat. The belief in genetic obesity is still around. But is that genes that really make you fat? Can having skinny parents make you skinny?

In 2005, a breaking news in the field of health science came out that probably offered comfort and solace to many obese lot. The  news flashed that some scientists have successfully identified a new gene called lipin that controls how the body produces and uses fat. This finding promised new ways of controlling obesity, diabetes and other weight-related disorders. The exact idea of lipin dates backs to 2001 when Karen Reue  linked lipin to lipodystrophy.

In 2006, a health science web portal rebuked the concept of a “fat gene” making one obese. The article said that it is slight to talk about a gene having to play more in weight gain than one’s lifestyle. It is just overeating and lack of physical activity that makes you fat and overweight. Human genes have not altered much in thousands of years. But obesity saw an exponential growth in the last quarter of the century. And it is not a change in the genes that is causing this new trend of obesity and lifestyle diseases. The fingers point to the change in the food market – the high calorie food items, the processed foods, the labor saving devices, technological innovations and the lack of physical labor. In conclusion, the recent global health problems are not genetic.

The FTO gene was identified in 2007 that apparently explained the reason why some people remain overweight while some do not.

The “yes” and “no” about the existence of a “fat gene” has been going on for a while now. Finally, some reassuring news come from Düsseldorf University in Germany which would again lead to a lot of questions and controversies. The new results point out that the FTO gene may regulate the metabolism in a person making him leaner. Now the world of science is looking forward to the positive effects FTO can bring out if inhibited in humans. This new finding may pave way to new medicines with FTO which may reduce obesity and weight-related disorders.

Melanocortin-4 receptor ( MC4R), another human gene, the mutations of which were accused of genetic obesity as early as in 1998. A collaboration between 77 institutions from the UK, USA, France, Germany, Italy, Finland and Sweden in 2008 discovered the genetic variants which could cause severe inherited obesity. But again critics come to the scenario with hands tightly clasped together. These genetic variants are said to contribute a weight of 3.3 pounds or a little more. But the carriers of these genes are a triple more overweight than what these genes can really make them!

Despite all the scientific endeavors the common public still believes that there is a lot more than just genetics.

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-Aparna K V

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