Your Health: Genetics and obesity

Your Health: Genetics and obesity
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 5:24 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - You eat healthy, you exercise and yet the numbers on the scale still nudge their way up.

If you wonder why your health habits mirror that of a friend’s, but your body doesn’t respond the same way, researchers at the University of Virginia believe genes may play a big part.

With more than 41% of Americans considered obese, it’s a critical question: When diet and exercise fail, what else can people do to get to a healthy weight?

“We really need to develop drugs that are safe and that can be used for the average person,” said Elyeen O’Rourke.

Researchers at the University of Virginia have taken the first step by studying a tiny invertebrate, a worm called C. elegans that has a very similar genetic makeup to humans. The scientists have identified 14 genes that may put people at higher risk for gaining weight.

“So, if you eat the same as your cousin, that doesn’t have that variant, you are more likely to become obese,” O’Rourke said.

The researchers have also identified three gene variants that may do the opposite. People with these genes can eat more and maintain a healthy weight.

With specific targets identified, O’Rourke said researchers can develop drugs that would inactivate the genes, which could accelerate weight loss.

The gene discovery could also open the way for researchers to test drugs that are currently FDA approved for other uses, to see if they impact obesity genes.

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