Certain genes may predispose people to become obese if they already have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI), researchers have found.
Scientists at McMaster University, Canada, report that there are nine genes which can “snowball” obesity, increasing the risk of health complications including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
But the researchers stated maintaining a healthy weight can limit the impact of these genes, and preventing obesity is the optimal strategy for those with a high genetic risk of obesity.
Lead author David Meyre, associate professor of health research methods, evidence and impact at McMaster University, said: “We have an important message of hope that the carriers of these genes, if they stay in the low end of body mass index through appropriate lifestyle, may minimize the effect of the snowball obesity genes.”
Meyre and colleagues examined 37 genes known to modulate body mass in 75,230 adults. They observed nine genes known as single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) which were significantly increased among BMI distribution. Because the effects of these SNPs are higher among with those with raised BMIs, this gene interaction is what causes the snowball effect.
“It’s similar to a tiny snow ball at a top of a hill that becomes bigger and bigger when rolling down the hill,” said Meyre. “The effect of these genes may be amplified by four times, if we compare the 10% of the population at the low end of the body mass index, compared to the 10% at the high end.
“The plausible explanation is that there are interactions between the snowball obesity genes and risk environmental factors.”
The findings have been published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
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