Genetic Testing & Obesity


Are you genetically predisposed to obesity?

The World Health Organization defines obesity as “a condition of abnormal or excessive fat accumulation in adipose tissue, to the extent that health may be impaired” (WHO, 1998).

Obesity has become a global health concern. As lifestyle and nutrition habits change, people move to cities (a process known as “urbanization”), more countries develop economically and access to food becomes easier, obesity too seems to have also increased. Ironically, whilst many may think the prevalence of obesity is higher in westernized countries, studies have actually shown that the number of obese people in underdeveloped countries is also increasing.

Obesity: the FTO gene

Scientists have found the culprit: there is a gene that is in fact the cause of obesity. This gene is the FTO gene, or the Fat mass and obesity-associated protein. This gene has many functions but amongst them is the control of appetite. A mutation in this gene means that you might be less likely to help yourself reaching for second helpings and having your eyes bigger than your stomach.

A genetic predisposition test for obesity can tell a person if he or she has this gene and what are their chances of becoming obese when compared to other healthy individuals in their population. Ultimately, a DNA test cannot in any way prevent obesity or somebody becoming obese, and moreover, there is nothing one can scientifically do to treat or cure obesity. Once obese, only strict dieting and in extreme cases, surgical removal of fatty deposits can help “cure” the condition. But, first and foremost, prevention is far better than cure.

A DNA test can help a person know whether they have beyond average risk. If they have this information then they can capitalize on that awareness. They can get some help and make sure they follow an eating plan and exercise routine that entails taking in fewer calories than one expends. They can also learn tips and rules for managing their hunger and appetite.

Epidemiologists have focused their attention on the genes versus the environment debate when it comes to obesity to explain the world-wide increase. Whilst they invariably and unanimously acknowledge the impact of genetics, they place far more weight and importance on the environment. People become obese either because of a combination of genes and their environment or simply because of unhealthy and inactive lifestyles. The impact our genes have on obesity is small and the FTO gene or any other obesity linked genes do not determine whether one develops obesity. It is your choices in food and lifestyle that will determine whether you become obese or not.


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