Carriers of the obesity gene can also lose weight – University of Copenhagen

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21 September 2016

Carriers of the obesity gene can also lose weight


The risk of becoming obese is 70% greater for carriers of the famous obesity gene, FTO, and on average, they weigh 3 kilos more than the rest of the general population. However, a new large, international study establishes that the gene does not prevent people from losing weight.

Obesity is an epidemic. Worldwide, 2.1 billion people are overweight. In Denmark, almost half the population is overweight and close to 600,000 people are obese. Which is why continued work on solving the obesity problem is called for, including the identification of the importance of our genes. And progress has been made.

Good news for overweight people

In collaboration with scientists from Newcastle University and numerous other countries, scientist from the University of Copenhagen have examined eight previous studies with more than 9,000 participants to find out whether or not carriers of the FTO gene have greater problems losing weight. And their conclusions spell very good news for overweight people.

“Our study shows that you can indeed lose weight even though you carry the FTO gene,” says Professor Thorkild I. A. Sørensen, the article’s co-author and researcher at the Metabolism Center, University of Copenhagen. “This means that despite suffering a genetic predisposition to overweight, diets and any other method to lose weight will have the exact same effect on you as they have on people who are not carriers of the obesity gene,” he adds.

Important for future preventive strategies

Professor Sørensen is backed up by his co-author, Professor, DMSc Arne Astrup from the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen, who incidentally carries the obesity gene himself. Astrup states that this is important knowledge for future preventive strategies.

“We must not underestimate the importance of these new insights for the professionals working to improve public health and for public health in general. Firstly, because the study emphasises that weight loss interventions can work. Secondly, the results also emphasise that as yet, there is no reason to test overweight people’s genes because we still haven’t located genes that are relevant to treatments,” he says.

Large study of the obesity gene

The study is among the first and most thorough examinations of the effect of the obesity gene, FTO, in relation to weight loss. It was carried out in collaboration with researchers and universities in 11 countries in total and it builds on a systematic examination of data from eight previous studies with 9,563 participants (adults). Today, the study is published in the internationally renowned scientific journal, BMJ (British Medical Journal).

The study concludes that the ability to lose weight is present across gender, age and ethnicity. Future research on the FTO gene’s effect on weight loss should also look closer at the effect other genes may have on weight loss.