Overweight man in park,stretching against tree,side view

Are your genes making you fat?

Intriguing research points to potential genetic solutions to prevent and treat obesity.

Obesity is a significant risk factor for a host of conditions, including heart disease and stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure.

Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher Dr. Susanne Clee

Dr. Susanne Clee

 It is responsible for nearly 25 per cent of heart disease and 10 per cent of strokes in Canada. Its prevalence is increasing so rapidly that more than a quarter of Canadian children are now overweight or obese, exposing them to risks of health complications earlier in life.

For many people, significant and sustained weight loss is a challenge – one that is made harder by our obesity-promoting environment.

But within this environment, genetics influence each person’s propensity to gain weight. If research can identify novel genes influencing body weight, that could provide opportunities for producing new strategies to tackle obesity and its associated health risks.

Dr. Susanne Clee has already identified two genes which may affect body weight. Her new study, supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, will be the first to look at these genes for their roles in obesity.

Dr. Clee, an assistant professor in the department of cellular and physiological sciences at the University of British Columbia, plans to evaluate if changes to one or both of these genes impact metabolism and weight, excluding the effects of diet and exercise.

She suspects that reduced activity levels of the two genes will make subjects more prone to weight gain. In models with reduced gene functionality, her team will monitor weight and fat gain, as well as alterations in sugar and fat metabolism. Dr. Clee will also investigate the mechanisms by which the genes induce these changes.

Insight gained from this project will provide more knowledge on obesity development and could lead to new treatments.

This presents the possibility of manipulating genes to control obesity and the ability to modify metabolism. New approaches to support weight loss and maintenance in overweight individuals will significantly lower their heart disease and stroke risk.

“The Heart and Stroke Foundation has supported this project from its early stages and HSF funding is absolutely essential for this work to continue,” Dr. Clee said. “At a time when research funding is increasingly difficult to come by, the recognition of the potential of this work by the HSF has been critical.”

  • Family history can double your risk of heart disease and stroke. Know your risk.

51 Responses

  1. Nick

    With all due respect, it has been a well known fact that exercise is a part of losing weight. Maybe it would be more advantageous to start cutting out the contaminated foods we’re being provided with, as well as the toxic chemicals that are now part of our lives wherever we are.

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Hello Nick,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment on the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s blog post. You are, of course, correct in stating that a healthy diet and physical activity are key in maintaining a healthy weight. And as noted in the blog, we do live in an obesity-promoting environment. However, Dr. Clee’s Heart and Stroke Foundation-supported research is looking at how genes, as well as lifestyle factors may play a role in our risk of becoming overweight or obese. I know that you would agree that with rates of overweight and obesity at an all-time high, it is of critical importance that we continue to find ways to tackle this issue and its associated health risks.
      Thank you again for voicing your opinion, Nick. We enjoy hearing from our readers and encourage you to contact us again should you have questions or comments on any of our future blog posts.

      Yours in heart health, Sharon at the Heart and Stroke Foundation

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Hi Eden, and thank you for taking the time to ask a question regarding the recent Heart and Stroke Foundation blog post on the potential role of genes in the problem of obesity. I spoke with the individual who wrote the lay summary for Dr. Clee’s research, and she has advised me that Dr. Clee has indicated that identifying the names of the genes at this point would be premature, as they have not been publicly disclosed yet. Sorry I can’t be more helpful right now but stay tuned for more information on this exciting research project.
      Thanks again for your question – have a great day!
      Sincerely, Sharon at the Heart and Stroke Foundation

  2. Vicki

    I am somewhat disappointed to read that we are supporting research money on this study.Both my parents were/ are overweight – the contributing factor was/is poor diet and lack of excercise. Grandparents on both sides lead a healthy active lifestyle and were fit. While I do think your genes can play a role in your health, it is ultimately how we choose to live our lifestyle that will determine our own health status. I work hard to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. I agree with Nick – look at what we consume – whats in it and how our bodies react to the perservatives and lack of nutrition. If we continue as a socieiy to follow our patterns of such poor diet, and lack of exercise – all the research in the world won’t help obestity and health issues. Teaching our children healthy habits and eating nutricious food will.

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Hello, Vicki and thanks for your comment on this blog post. As I noted in my reply to Nick, there is no denying the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise in our ability to control our weight. The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Action Plan on Obesity includes a strong advocacy component to help support policies to prevent obesity by focusing on healthy nutrition and physical activity in Canada’s schools, workplaces and communities. However the rationale behind Dr. Clee’s genetic research is the reality that some people are more prone to weight gain and more challenged in their attempts to shed excess weight. Hopefully the results of her research will provide answers and help us in our efforts to help all Canadians to live longer, healthier lives.
      Thanks again, Vicki – for the comment and the conversation!
      Sincerely, Sharon at the Heart and Stroke Foundation

  3. Janine Barbaresi

    I find this quite interesting. I am obese and in January 2015 I had an aortic aneurysm. I know exercise and proper eating habits are good. I have trouble exercising on a regular basis because I never seem to know how my breathing will be. I have COPD and asthma. Fall is the worst I ever of year for me. As far as eating goes, I cook from scratch most of the time but again like most obese people, I eat too much. I find dieting one of the most stressful things to do and even though I’ve been successful several time, I always gain it back like 95% of the population. How does one fight those odds? If there is a genetic answer I would love to be a tester in any study.

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Hello Janine,
      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this very complex problem. I’m sorry to hear of your health issues and I do understand that this can make it more difficult for you to lose weight and keep it off. Have you discussed these concerns with your family doctor, and perhaps explored the possibility of getting some nutritional counseling? While I don’t know where you live, I’m sure that there are resources that would be available to you. It sounds as if you are making a sincere effort but sometimes we all need outside help in identifying how we can take small steps toward better health.

      Best of luck with this, Janine and thanks again for reaching out! Sincerely, Sharon H.

      P.S.You might also wish to mention your interest in being part of a study to your healthcare provider.

  4. Laurie

    What about medications? Many meds cause weight gain. How does that work? Do they make you hungrier or do they add weight some other way? (Aside from retained water weight.)

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Hi Laurie and thank you for your question. It’s an interesting one, but unfortunately, I am unable to provide an answer, as the role of the Heart and Stroke Foundation is to provide general health information to the public and not to provide specific medical advice. I suggest you ask either your family doctor or a local pharmacist. Sorry I can’t be more helpful at this time, but thanks again for your interest in our blog posts – we enjoy hearing from our readers!
      Sincerely, Sharon at the Heart and Stroke Foundation

  5. Scott

    Hi Sharon…..I’m in agreement with Nick and Vicki. While it may be possible that genes may play a role, weight is something that is attributable to the owner. I watched my father at 5’6″ balloon to over 300 lbs. and when diagnosed with diabetes in his late 40’s, he chose to change his diet and give up the types of foods (and drink) that put him in that position. He is now 90 years young, in great health and weighs in at 150 lbs. He walks every day, still drives, and is sharp as a tack. My wife and I both chaged our diet to a much more healthy one, eat as much as we want (and then some), exercise routinely and we lost both girth and laziness. I am 62, weigh 155 pounds and am 5’10”. Three years ago I weighed 215 pounds and if I thought for a second it was genetic, or contributed to by genetics, I would never have taken the initiative to look after myself. It seems to me we keep looking for other things to blame for our fast food, sweet or salty diets. I do agree though that some things will contribute by way of genetics and that is the genetically modified foods that our bodies don’t recognize so turn it in to fat.

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Hi Scott and thanks for your comments. We really appreciate hearing from our readers.

      There is definitely no doubt that our lifestyle plays an enormous role in our overall health, including maintaining a healthy weight. An important part of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s mission is preventing disease, and we provide Canadians with advice and tools to help them reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke through healthy eating and physical activity. However studies into the role played by genes in controlling weight do hold promise for individuals who continue to struggle with their weight despite their best efforts to live healthy lives.

      Big congrats to your father as well as you and your wife for embarking on such a significant lifestyle change – we love to hear such inspiring stories from our readers!

      Sharon at the Heart and Stroke Foundation

  6. James McGregor

    Hi I am a child of the early 30s as is my equally aged wife. These must be newly evolved genes you are writing about. I never met a fat person as a child or as an early adult.We have many photographs taken of our grandparents and parents and in laws and relations. This gene was certainly deficient in all of them. I was called into the British army in 1953 with another 799 young men in my intake and again all were lean. I suspect nowadays some overweight people do not realise their caloric intake. Running jumping aerobics walking and suchlike are useless for losing fat. If you want exercise to supplement your restrained eating habits you must use weights and engage in orderly recruitment of your muscle fibres so that all types are engages. This would emulate our far away ancestors ways of life. I was in Chicago recently and these genetic traits have run riot!

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Good morning James,
      Thank you for your comments regarding the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s recent blog posting. You are of course correct in saying that to achieve and maintain a healthy weight we need to follow a healthy diet, watching our caloric intake, and engage in regular physical activity. You are also right in stating that our ancestors tended to be leaner. Their daily lives did not include today’s technology and conveniences that have made our lives easier, but also get in the way of our being active. That said, research is revealing that there can be genetic factors at play as well in our ability to control our weight. It is our hope that findings from this research will help us better understand the role of genetics in obesity, a major risk for heart disease, stroke and other chronic conditions.
      Thanks again for reaching out, James. The Heart and Stroke Foundation is always pleased to engage in conversations with our loyal readers!
      Yours in good health, Sharon at the Heart and Stroke Foundation

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Thanks for the kind comment. Glad you are finding the Heart & Stroke blog posts helpful! Have a great day. Sharon at Heart & Stroke

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