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How Much Your Genes Account for Weight Gain

Written by Heather Kim

Your genes can effect how much you weight you gain. The success of a survival gene can be why plentiful food transforms into weight gain for some people more than others.the role of genes in weight gain

A survival mechanism that evolves to preserve a race during famine transforms into a dangerous liability once food is plentiful. That's the story science is telling about the "thrifty" gene, a gene whose discovery adds race to genetics as yet another explanation of obesity in humans.

Where you don't want to gain weight
Scientists believe that race plays an important role in the incidence of obesity.
Studies on the Inuit of Canada and the Pimas of Arizona show that both groups have a high incidence of obesity that may be associated with genes.
Scientists speculate that the thrifty fat genes that protected certain racial groups during times of famine developed into a liability when food became plentiful.
The thrifty fat gene may cut across all racial groups. Some scientists believe that people whose parents or grandparents had little to eat are more prone to obesity than those who descend from generations of well fed.

Take the Pimas of Gila River, Ariz. Members have an unusually high incidence of obesity and the highest recorded rate of type 2 diabetes in the world. A Gila River Pima man has an 80 percent chance of becoming diabetic before he's 55, according to a public health officer for the tribe.

Likewise, the Inuit of Canada have a gene variation (called GNB3) that correlates with a higher body mass index, the yardstick for measuring obesity, as well as larger waist and hip measurements, says a recent report in the journal Genome Research.

Such studies tell us that some ethnic groups evolved thrifty fat genes to survive famine. As long as they consumed a moderate amount of fruit, vegetables, fish and meat, body weight remained normal.

When the Inuit and Pimas abandoned their traditional lifestyles and adopted the eating habits of contemporary North America, their thrifty fat genes became a liability. With new eating habits, fat was stored, rather than metabolized, as would probably have been the case with other racial groups.

The thrifty gene may also be a factor in the higher incidence of obesity among Hispanics and blacks, according to some scientists. Additionally, studies of Caucasians show that those of wealthy ancestry are less susceptible to obesity than those descended from poverty.

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Consume more calories than you burn and you'll be overweight. That axiom remains the accepted explanation of obesity, a condition that has reached epidemic levels in North America and Western Europe.
Scientists estimate that genes account for 60 to 90 percent of the differences in people's body weight.
Don't overestimate the importance of genes. Americans have become steadily fatter over the last 20 years, while our genes remain the same.
Low-fat foods can leave a mark on your waistline. Many people overindulge in low-fat foods ignoring high calorie consumption.
Even a modest weight loss can reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

Ninety-seven million Americans — 55 percent of the population — are overweight or obese, according to the National Institutes of Health. But contrary to the once prevailing opinion that blamed gluttony and overindulgence, scientists now say genetics accounts for 60 to 90 percent of the differences in people's weight.

Inheriting the "fat gene" doesn't mean we're doomed to a lifetime of oversized clothing, or that we'll be obese regardless of what we eat. It means we need to take charge of diet and exercise. Here are some methods:

Don't overestimate the importance of genes. Although obesity among Americans has skyrocketed in the last 20 years, there's no question about this fact: Our genes have not changed.

Don't assume "fat-free" means a free ride on your daily calorie budget. According to Michael Fumento, author of The Fat of the Land: The Obesity Epidemic and How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves, the plethora of "low-fat," "fat-free" and "lite" foods causes many people to overindulge. Your metabolism digests calories from fat-free foods the same way it does chips or regular snacks.

Be honest with yourself (even if you're not with anyone else). A 1995 British study found that people who were overweight often said they didn't understand their weight gain. But researchers found such folks tended to underestimate their food intake by as much as 50 percent.

Keep realistic goals. If your parents are obese and you've battled a weight problem for much of your life, it's unlikely that any eating plan will make you permanently svelte.

Aim for a modest and achievable weight loss. Realize that even a 10 percent decrease in your body weight can cut your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and, perhaps, certain cancers.

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