What is the link between obesity and genetics?

In 2007, the FTO gene was discovered to be related to obesity susceptibility and is the most important genetic contributor to obesity. The FTO gene is highly expressed in the hypothalamus, a region in the brain involved in appetite regulation and metabolism. 

Different versions of the FTO gene are linked with satiety (how full you feel after a meal), appetite, food preference, and overall risk of obesity. 

Having an “A” copy of this gene is associated with increased body mass index (BMI) and being overweight or obese. Those with this copy may also experience increased appetite and lower satiety, which may explain why this copy of the FTO gene is associated with higher body weight. 

Conversely, the “T” copy of the FTO gene is associated with increased lean body mass and a lower risk of being overweight or obese. 


What else contributes to obesity?

It’s important to remember that although it has been shown that genetics play a role in obesity risk, the overall risk of being overweight or obese is a combination of many genetic and lifestyle factors. 

For example, participating in regular exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of obesity in those that have an “A” copy of the FTO gene. This, combined with healthy diet choices, can play a significant role in negating the increased genetic risk of being overweight.

Understanding that you may have a genetic predisposition to increased body weight may be the motivation you need to make healthy lifestyle choices a priority.


What healthy choices can I make?

Though diet and exercise are first-line defenses to reducing the risk of obesity, it’s vital to consult with a doctor before making any significant changes to your diet and lifestyle.

Eating well looks like this:

  • Choosing minimally processed foods like whole grains, vegetables, fish and poultry, nuts, beans, or whole fruits
  • Drinking water or naturally calorie-free beverages
  • Limiting overly processed foods like fast food, processed meats (bacon, sausage, salami), and refined grains (white bread)

If you’re looking for a simple way to start eating healthy, Harvard’s School of Public Health has a simple-to-understand guide to help you with your choices.

Exercise plays another factor in reducing risk. To keep in good health, it’s recommended that adults participate in at least 2.5 hours of moderate activity or 1.5 hours of vigorous activity every week. Moderate activities include brisk walking, riding a bike, shooting hoops, or even doing house chores. Vigorous activities are those that increase your heart rate and include running, fast swimming, hiking or climbing stairs, or jumping rope. Alternatively, you can participate in a combination of both moderate and vigorous activities throughout your day and week to keep your physical activities exciting. 


Next Steps

If you think you’d like to understand more about your genetics and how they may affect you, ADx Health recommends speaking to a medical professional about taking a genetic test. ADx offers a comprehensive report that gives you transparency into your genetics. Learn more about the myGenoFit panel here. 

These statements are not intended to replace a medical professional’s assessment.