Researchers have identified a variant of a gene that, should you be blessed with two copies, makes you prone to retaining extra weight. Those with one copy of the mutant FTO gene are 30 per cent more likely to be obese, while those with two copies, the researchers say, are 70 per cent more likely to be dangerously overweight.
Unsurprisingly, this has prompted all kinds of hysterical headlines proclaiming that there really is a gene that explains obesity. You are not fat, one headline reads, you just have fat genes. Your genes are why you can't fit in your jeans, titters another.
But the research found that those with the double helping of the gene only weighed, on average, three kilos, or six and a half pounds more than those without. So the gene can't be blamed for all of the extra poundage Europe is hefting around.
In addition, the researchers still have no idea what the gene actually does that makes people predisposed to gain more weight than their non-gene carrying colleagues. Nevertheless the discovery that any gene is solidly associated with a tendency to pick up weight has got people very excited.
The researchers hope that the gene will help researchers discover new ways of preventing and treating obesity, and its associated illnesses.
The gene was identified while researchers were studying a group with type 2 diabetes. Sufferers are more likely to carry the variant of the so-called FTO gene.
The work, published in Science by the Peninsula Medical School and Oxford University, is based on data gathered from more than 38,000 people. From this data, the team was able to establish that the gene is also associated with extra weight. They estimate that around one in six white Europeans have two copies of the gene, while half will carry one copy. ®