Inherit a Large Sum of Money

Understanding an Inheritance of Obesity

Confronting the inheritance of obesity really grates on people. It challenges a broad cultural bias that obesity is primarily a result of personal choices. The fact of obesity being a highly heritable trait is simply annoying to people who insist that strength of will can solve the problem. Regardless, scientists persist in exploring the genetic basis for this disease.

Numerous and Diverse Genetic Forms of Obesity

Yuvreet Kaur and colleagues have just published a systematic review of obesity syndromes linked to a single genetic mutation. They were surprised to find 79 genetic syndromes linked to obesity. Previous summaries had identified fewer than 30. Senior author David Meyre holds the Canada Research Chair in Genetics of Obesity at McMaster University. He explained the importance of this work:

A more clear understanding of the genetic causes of these syndromes may not only improve the lives of those afflicted with these mutations, but will also help us understand the genes and molecules that are important in obesity among members of the general population.

But still, these single-gene obesity syndromes are rare.

Polygenic Obesity

More often, genetic susceptibility to obesity is the result of multiple genetic factors – polygenic obesity. Ruth Loos and Cecile Janssens look at the possibility of using genetic profiles to identify people at risk of developing obesity. They ask if “precision medicine” techniques might help. They conclude that the present knowledge base is inadequate:

Personalizing preventive and/or treatment strategies based solely on an individual’s genetic susceptibility – so-called precision medicine – is an honorable aim that is not likely to be achieved in the near future, at least not for the common, multifactorial form of obesity.

Much to Learn

In fact, traditional predictors – family history and obesity in childhood – outperform genetic predictors. We have much to learn about the genetic basis for obesity and how it interacts with our environment.

Better knowledge will lead to better treatment and better prevention.

Click here for the review by Kaur et al and here for the paper by Loos and Janssens.

Inherit a Large Sum of Money, photograph © Quinn Dombrowski / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


March 29, 2017

2 Responses to “Understanding an Inheritance of Obesity”

  1. March 29, 2017 at 8:57 pm, Mirna Brilmann said:

    I’m a psychologist researcher in the field of obesity, bariatric surgery and food addiction.

    • March 30, 2017 at 4:12 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for the good work you do, Mirna.