Blog: Dean Best"It's my genes' fault!"

Dean Best | 13 April 2007

There we have it – the ideal excuse for idle teenagers everywhere. Kids don’t get fat just because they lounge around eating junk food (and videoing themselves doing it for YouTube) but because of their family tree.

Scientists in the UK have discovered what they claim to be a clear genetic link to obesity. According to the study, headed by experts from Oxford University, one copy of a certain gene leads to a weight gain of 2.6lb. People with two copies gain 6.5lb.

In the report, published in the Science journal, the researchers claim that around half of the people studied (the survey was limited to Europe) have one copy of the gene.

Let’s be clear – obesity is a serious and ever-more common problem. Adult obesity rates in the UK alone have reportedly almost quadrupled in the last 25 years. One in four Brits are now obese and the condition is linked to a range of serious health problems. Any research that better informs our knowledge of the problem – and how we can tackle it – should be welcomed.

However, the danger is that some could use the study – and today’s (13 April) media interest around it – to give up trying to combat obesity through diet and exercise. The team behind the genetic study insist that those who are overweight should eat less and exercise more but some may take comfort that they now in effect have no moral responsibility for their problem.

Individual responsibility is central to combating obesity. For kids, parents have a critical role. “It’s not me – it’s my genes!” could become a more common refrain from the nation’s teenagers but parents have to remember that if little Johnny doesn’t lose weight now, he’ll have a heap of health problems later in life.

The 24-hour society in which we live – with its associated technological advances – may mean we now eat more and exercise less than our forebears. But we shouldn’t use our ancestors as an excuse not to tackle the ticking social timebomb of obesity.


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