Healthy living * Weight loss

Missing genes linked to extreme obesity

Zone default image Extreme weight genetic deletion can be inherited

A small number of extremely obese people are missing a section of their DNA, researchers have discovered.

According to latest research, published today in the journal Nature, seven in every 1,000 people who are morbidly obese are missing a part of their genetic material - DNA - containing around 30 genes.

An estimated 700,000 people in England are morbidly obese with a Body Mass Index greater than 40.

In the study, scientists from Imperial College London and European partners examined the genetic material from over 16,000 people who were either obese or had a normal weight. Seven in every 1,000 morbidly obese people were found to be missing the same segment of DNA. None of the normal weight people had the genetic deletion.

Most of the people with the genetic deletion were normal weight as toddlers, but became overweight during childhood, and some had inherited the deletion from their parents who were also obese.

The scientists said the research was the first to clearly demonstrate that obesity in healthy people can be caused by a rare genetic variation in which a section of a person's DNA is missing.

Professor Philippe Froguel, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London who led the study said: "It is becoming increasingly clear that for some morbidly obese people, their weight gain has an underlying genetic cause.

"If we can identify these individuals through genetic testing, we can then offer them appropriate support and medical interventions, such as the option of weight loss surgery, to improve their long-term health."

June Davison, Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This new research may provide part of the explanation as to why some people may be more prone to becoming very overweight.

“However, this is not the only reason for the high levels of obesity we’re currently seeing. Worryingly, around 1 in 4 people in the UK are obese and the main contributors are eating unhealthily and not being active enough.

“If you are overweight, obese, or if you have a waist size that is increased, it is important to make changes to your lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet and doing regular physical activity to reduce your risk of heart health problems.”

This article was published on Thu 4 February 2010

Image © © Benjaminet -

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