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No link between ‘obesity gene’ and ability to lose weight

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People who have one of the genetic profiles associated with obesity, known as the FTO gene, respond equally well to diet, exercise, and drug-based weight loss interventions as the rest of the population, a study has found.

The findings, published this week in The BMJ, indicate that the FTO gene does not appear to affect a person’s ability to lose weight.

An international team of researchers tested the relation between the FTO gene and weight loss interventions using data from almost 10,000 participants in eight randomised control trials.

Participants with the FTO gene were slightly heavier (0.89 kg) than those not carrying the gene at the start of the trials (baseline). The researchers could find no relation between FTO and the ability to lose weight whereby changes in body mass index, body weight, and waist circumference by FTO genotype did not differ by intervention, ethnicity, sample size, sex, or baseline body mass index and age.

Related: Obesity: we know what to do

In a linked editorial, Dr Alison Tedstone, Public Health England’s chief nutritionist, said while the causes of obesity were multiple and complex, current evidence suggested that they have little to do with gene profiles.

Dr Tedstone said that personalised obesity interventions based on the genome may not be effective in the short term, and that an examination of environmental factors could be more beneficial.

“A rebalancing of research towards whole systems approaches including environmental drivers may be of greater benefit to the population in the long term,” she said.

The study authors acknowledged limitations in their analysis, but said it had been an important finding for the development of effective weight loss interventions in the context of the global epidemic of obesity.

Obesity is a major public health burden and its prevalence is increasing worldwide. With an estimated 2.1 billion adults now overweight or obese, there is an urgent need to develop more effective strategies for preventing and managing obesity.

One in five children in NSW now qualifies as overweight or obese, according to a recent state government report.

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