A new study shows that kids with so-called fat genes need not suffer that fate so long as they adopt a variety of lifestyle changes, a radical departure from the doom and gloom thinking that for so long has dominated the debate over genetics and weight gain.
In a study of 754 children at the University of Copenhagen’s Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, researchers found that kids with one or more of the 15 genetic markers for being overweight or obese could avoid excessive weight gain by adopting healthier lifestyle choices.
This represents a profound change from the long-held belief that one’s genetic makeup is key to weight gain. “Large parts of the population [believe] that when you have problematic genes it is game over,” said research author Jens-Christian Holm, a physician and head of the Children’s Obesity Clinic at Holbæk Hospital where the treatment protocol was carried out.
Large parts of the population [believe] that when you have problematic genes it is game over.
It was this very mindset the author’s studies set out to test. In a nutshell, said one of the researchers, Theresia Maria Schnurr, the study team wanted to determine whether genetic markers for excessive weight gain really do “make it impossible for some to lose weight.”
The answer? Absolutely not.
The median age of the children studied was 11.6 and each child underwent changes in lifestyle over a period lasting 6-24 months, including diet, physical and sedentary activities, sleep, snacking, modes of transportation and social activity.
The result was that kids carrying one or more of the 15 genetic markers known to produce a predisposition to being overweight or obese could indeed stave off those problems by making many of the common sense changes most already know: eat a healthier diet including vegetables and fruits, walk or ride a bike rather than be driven, participate in sports of some kind (individual or team), get up and move and spend time playing with friends rather than sit in front of a screen, avoid snacking on unhealthy foods especially late at night, and so on.
“We have discovered that it does not matter whether the children and adolescents have an increased genetic risk score or not,” said Holm. “They can respond to treatment just as well. This means our treatment is efficient despite carrying common obesity risk genes.”
So this holiday season, when the sugary snacks are trotted out along with our cultural propensity to overindulge in food, remind yourselves – and your kids – that we can indeed control our physical destiny far more than we thought. What a great gift to give a child!