Genetic testing for obesity: a tool for empowerment?

Getting tested for obesity genes may help people struggling with weight issues banish feelings of self-blame, a new study reveals.

Researchers from the Health Behavior Research Centre at the University College London wanted to know whether genetic obesity testing would help people become motivated to manage their weight, or if it would make them more apt to adopt a "genes are destiny" feeling about weight gain.

Testing may alleviate emotional stress of weight control

The research team tested 18 volunteers for their FTO status - a gene that has the biggest influence on obesity. FTO has two variants: one that is associated with a higher risk of weight gain (A), and one that is associated with lower risk (T). People who inherit two A variants from their parents - one from mom and one from dad - are about 70 percent more likely to become obese than people with two T variants. People with just one A variant are also more likely to gain weight than people with two T variants.

The volunteers expressed enthusiasm about receiving their genetic test results, and those who were overweight said that it would relieve some of the "emotional stress," stigma and self-blame associated with weight control.

Even more encouraging was that no one reported a negative reaction to the genetic test results, and no one said they felt there was nothing they could do to control their weight, even after getting the results.

"These results are encouraging," study lead Susanne Meisel said in a statement. "Regardless of gene status or weight, all the volunteers recognized that both genes and behavior are important for weight control."

A tool for empowerment?

Being aware of what combination of FTO variants one carries could help an individual become more empowered about weight management, the researchers noted.

"The results indicate that people are unlikely to believe that genes are destiny and stop engaging with weight control once they know their FTO status," Meisel concluded. "Although they knew that FTO's effect is only small, they found it motivating and informative."

Meisel and her team are now doing a larger study to confirm the findings.

Results of the current study can be found in the Journal of Genetic Counseling.

Source: Science Daily

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