Admirals Arch at Flinders Chase National Park

One Gene Cures Obesity? Nope

The award for the most annoying obesity story of the week goes to the Flinders University communications office. They win for issuing a press release to hype some genuinely interesting research. But the angle they chose made a joke of the research, spawning headlines about a new gene to cure obesity. Their headline:

Gene that lets you eat as much as you want may win obesity war

The Research

Published in EMBO reports, the paper by David Rotter and colleagues describes evidence that the RCAN1 gene can play an important role in regulating energy balance. It can help the body conserve energy to store it as fat. Blocking the gene in mice shifts that balance toward burning more energy rather than storing it.

It’s solid research offering valuable insights for potential pathways to treat obesity. But it’s not evidence of a cure for obesity. Furthermore, it offers no evidence for letting any human “eat as much as you want.”

The Hype

On Twitter, EASO summed things up quite well. Pointing to a sensational article from the Daily Mail, EASO observed: “Headlines (and articles) written like this make obesity scientists and science communication specialists tear their hair.”

Of course, they’re absolutely right. But it seems to us that scientists and communications specialists at Flinders University are complicit. Their press release sparked the firestorm of sensationalism.

Flinders, you can do better than this to inform the public and bring attention to excellent research. Just stay with the facts.

Click here for the research and here for the press release.

Admirals Arch at Flinders Chase National Park, photograph © Rodney Campbell / flickr

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December 8, 2018

One Response to “One Gene Cures Obesity? Nope”

  1. December 08, 2018 at 10:58 am, Angela Golden said:

    Thank you for this EXCELLENT review of what happens when PR trumps science in obesity. I am using this as a case study in the Primary Care Obesity Certification program.