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The Effect of Genes and Sugary Drinks on Obesity

It just doesn’t seem fair.  Some people can eat anything they want and never seem to gain weight.  Others can just look at a french fry and put on 10 pounds.  Why is that?

Scientists have recently found that the answer may partly lie in our genes.  They have identified 32 different areas in the human genome that are closely associated with obesity.  It seems that the more of these areas a person has, the more likely he or she is to suffer from obesity.  We will call these people “genetically prone” to obesity.  We don’t fully understand what these genetic areas do.  Perhaps they lower metabolism, increase hunger, or just give people a feeling of euphoria when they eat certain junk foods.  Even though we don’t know what they do, we know these genetic areas exist, and scientists are working to learn more about them.

A study this month in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at over 30,000 people to see how genes and sugary drinks affect weight gain.  An interesting finding occurred when you consider people who drink one or more sugary drinks per day (like soda, sweet tea, lemonade, or sweetened fruit juices).  The more “genetically prone” these sugary drinkers were, the more weight they gained.  Conversely, people with fewer of the obesity related genetic areas could drink a sugary drink each day without gaining as much weight.  People who are genetically prone to obesity just can’t afford to drink sugary drinks.  Their bodies will store more of those calories as fat.  It may not be fair, but that is how the body works.

There is no simple test yet to see if you are genetically predisposed to obesity, but you know your body and you know if obesity runs in your family.  If you suspect that you are genetically predisposed to obesity, the safest thing to do is avoid sugary drinks and high calorie foods.  They are just going to pack on the pounds.

Carl Lowe, Jr., MD

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