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“Gene” Made Me Do It: Could ‘FTO’ Gene Be Reason Why We Overeat?

Overweight Child We tend to ascribe the prevalence of obesity to people’s inability to express self-control over their eating habits. But new research reveals that some people carry a gene that actually makes it more difficult to tell whether or not they’re full, causing someone to eat more than they need. 

The gene is referred to as “FTO” and researchers from the University College London and the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London are adding to the body of research on what might be referred to as the “obesity gene.”  In previous

research, it was found that those who had two copies of this gene in their bloodstream tended to weigh more – an average of six pounds more – than those who had one copy of the gene. But researchers from the above mentioned colleges and universities wanted to investigate the gene a bit further, to see what it was about the gene that made people gain more weight. 

Researchers analyzed the eating habits and measurements of 3000 children between the ages of 8 and 11 to see if those who carried the gene had an altered appetite.  What determined, or defined an “altered appetite”?  By giving the kids’ parents questionnaires that pertained to their child’s eating habits, as well as gathering information on their height, weight and waist circumference, the researchers were able to assess a child’s appetite.

What they found was that among those children who carried the FTO gene, they were indeed more likely to have an altered appetite, in that they weren’t able to tell when they were in fact full.  Apparently, this FTO gene “switches off” the body’s ability to tell when it’s satiated.

So if people that carry this gene aren’t able to tell whether or not they’re full, this explains away their obesity.  In other words, it’s not the person’s fault, it’s the gene’s fault, right?  Not so fast.

While the study’s lead researcher Jane Wardle says the gene makes people “more vulnerable” to eating excessively, the effects are small.  Further, there wasn’t a “hugely strong association” between obesity levels and whether one carried the FTO gene.  Nevertheless, Wardle does believe it’s more difficult for people with the gene to know when they’re full because, seemingly, they don’t have as strong an indicator to their “internal signals” as others.

But ask representatives from the Heart Research UK, a charity dedicated to the advancement in knowledge about the heart, and they’ll give you a more reasoned response.  To quote Heart Research UK’s director, Barbara Harpham, the finding is “an explanation, not a reason” for obesity.

In other words, while this study may help explain how different people’s bodies operate in determining food consumption, we ultimately have the choice of whether or not we are going to eat that extra scoop of ice cream or have a slice of cantaloupe instead.

This study helps us understand the role genes play in regulating hunger, but it does not explain away the prevalence of obesity, in America particularly.  It puts the medical world no closer to finding a cure for obesity, either.  But that cure won’t need to be found in the medical world.  After all, the cure lies within our own willpower to resist temptation.  Unfortunately, that temptation may be stronger in some more than others.

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