Those who live with obesity do not simply carry too much weight around with them, but also many secondary diseases. “Obesity is a disease and not a patient failure,” notes Professor Dr. Antje Körner from the Obesity Research Center in Leipzig in an interview with MDR knowledge clear. There are genes that make their carriers particularly susceptible to obesity. The research center for obesity diseases in Leipzig is looking for exactly such genes. But, the search is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
What is the Research about Obesity?
In 2007 researchers made a breakthrough. They discovered the gene variant FTO, overrepresented in people with obesity. The FTO (fat mass and obesity-associated) gene ensures specific fat cells only store fat instead of burning it, which is their job. The result is cells gets more prominent, so the fatty tissue gets more significant, and the subject or patient will get obese.
Fat cells – the body’s energy stores
However, if they are active, these gene variants are only responsible for one to two kilos of body weight. For people with 150 kilos, these are only marginally important. But the FTO gene variant is not the only one that the researchers have since found in a haystack. In the past few years, researchers have found more than 100 genes. Studies with more than a million subjects have shown that there could be more than 700 gene variants responsible for obesity.
Epidemiology of Obesity
If we are at the mercy of the many little unknowns in the genes, is the fight against obesity hopeless? No! We can even break the gene circle. Epigenetics research assumes that these characteristics are inherited genetically and various influences can activate or deactivate genes. Peter Kovac sees epigenetics as the key to the success of future obesity therapies. “We can turn many genes on or off later once we understand how they are regulated, by the environment, depending on what we need for our body weight”.
Baby fat is not necessarily harmless because environmental factors, lifestyle, diet, and exercise influence our genes. Plus individuals can act on these factors as early as possible, before full-blown obesity develops with all its consequences such as:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Heart attacks
Why is Research into Obesity Important?
High blood pressure in childhood can also indicate later clinical problems. It is crucial to analyze these preliminary stages, says Prof. Dr. Antje Körner, because the chances of obesity are 50 percent for an overweight infant and 90 percent for an obese five or six-year-old.
Why is Losing Weight so Hard?
The fight against the excess pounds is difficult. Simply due to an ancient mechanism in our body that tries to defend its weight. Fatty tissue serves as a store of energy for us, so “weight defense” is an ancient human strategy that has ensured survival in times of famine. The fact that in Western industrialized nations, we usually just have to reach into the fridge or pantry as soon as we are hungry has not yet been saved in our genes.