Dead Tired

Obesity Risk: Sleeping in Your Genes

The eternal question of obesity – What’s causing all this obesity? – may not have a definitive answer. But that doesn’t stop everybody from asking.  The easy answer is that obesity is mainly an inherited condition. If a person is susceptible, environment and life experiences trigger it. And then, that begs another question. What’s triggering all this excess obesity right now? New research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition points to unhealthy sleep patterns as a possible culprit.

An Interaction Between Genes and Sleep Patterns

Carlos Celis-Morales and colleagues studied data from 119,859 white European adults. They looked at genetic risk and sleep patterns. They used a validated risk score for a person’s genetic risk of obesity. And of course, they found that this risk score explained a lot about a person’s risk of obesity. This was true whether BMI or waist circumference was used as the measure for obesity.

But more importantly, they found that sleep patterns could have a significant effect on obesity risk. They found that four different sleep patterns contribute even more risk for someone with a high genetic risk score for obesity. Those four patterns are:

– Less than seven or more than nine hours of nightly sleep
– Shift work and night-shift work
– Daytime napping
– Night owl habits

Pointing to a Better Understanding of Obesity

In a companion editorial, Angelo Tremblay and Louis Pérusse explained the importance of this research. Knowing that unhealthy sleep patterns might be a trigger in people with genetic risks for obesity is certainly important. But even more important is the the example it provides. It points the way to future studies of the interaction between a person’s genetic profile and other potential triggers. It points to possibilities for personalized prevention and care.

Click here for the study and here for the editorial.

Dead Tired, photograph © Steve Baker / flickr

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April 6, 2017