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Exercise could counter the effects of the 'obesity gene'

November 01, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Being physically active could reduce the risk of being overweight for people with the obesity gene, a study finds,
Being physically active could reduce the risk of being overweight for people… (David Paul Morris / Bloomberg )

Having a so-called obesity gene doesn't necessarily doom you to being fat, a study finds — if you stay active.

A meta-analysis that included 45 studies of 218,166 adults looked at the effect physical activity had on being saddled with a gene associated with fat mass and obesity, otherwise known as the FTO gene or obesity gene. Researchers found that having the gene upped the risk of being overweight or obese, as well as having a higher body mass index, a larger waist circumference and higher body fat percentage.

However, getting some exercise seemed to reduce that chance. Being physically active had an effect on the FTO gene, reducing obesity risk by an average of 27% compared with people who were sedentary. The same effect was not seen in an analysis of nine studies on children and teens.

In analyzing the studies, researchers set the bar fairly low for what they considered physical activity. People were deemed inactive if they had a sedentary job and did less than one hour of moderate to vigorous activity per week, or their level of physical activity was in the lowest 20% among that group of study participants.

"Our findings are highly relevant for public health," the authors wrote in the study, released Tuesday in the journal PLoS Medicine. "They emphasize that [physical activity] is a particularly effective way of controlling body weight in individuals with a genetic predisposition towards obesity," and it goes against the belief that genetics are unchangeable.

Getting people to understand the link between genes and lifestyle is important, they added, and could give people a sense of control in determining their health.

This finding comes on the heels of another PLoS Medicine study that found that eating a diet high in raw fruits and vegetables may have a protective effect against a gene that's linked to a higher risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease.

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