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Scientists identify obesity gene

New Delhi. April 13: Scientists have identified an obesity gene that might explain why some people who diet and burn calories through exercise lose weight easily, while others keep struggling to lose fat.

Medical researchers in the UK have found that a variant of a gene, called FTO, increases the risk of obesity in white Caucasian populations, but they have no idea what the gene does in the body.

Their study, published in the Science journal today, shows that people who had two copies of the FTO variant are about 3 kg heavier than people who do not have even a single copy. “This tells us that it’s wrong to assume that all those who are fat are the greediest and the laziest,” said Andrew Hattersley, a geneticist at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, UK, the study’s lead author.

“It explains why some people find it harder to be slim than others — despite diet and exercise,” Hattersley told The Telegraph in a telephone interview.

“In the European population we studied, people who had this variant of FTO were fatter than people who didn’t,” Hattersley said. People with a single copy had 30 per cent increased risk of being obese, while people with two copies had 67 per cent higher risk of obesity which is a major risk factor for diabetes, blood pressure and heart disease.

Indian doctors, grappling with a growing epidemic of obesity and diabetes, said the discovery will not change medical advice about preventive action.

“We have the same genes today that we had in the mid-1970s, but obesity has gone up five times in urban India,” said Anoop Misra, director of the diabetes centre at the Fortis Hospital, New Delhi.

His studies have shown that the proportion of overweight children in New Delhi climbed to 28 per cent in 2006 from 18 per cent two years ago.

“There is a gene-diet interaction, but we can control diet and lifestyle, not genes,” said Misra, who has launched a health education programme for schools to coax children, parents and teachers about the virtues of healthy eating and exercise.

Previous studies have implicated genes in obesity. But all of them have accounted for rare forms of severe obesity — typically seen in less than one in 100 people. The “fat” variant of FTO, on the other hand, is far more common. One in six people had two copies of the “fat” variant, while one in two people had at least one copy of the variant.

The researchers discovered the link between FTO and obesity by analysing FTO variants.

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