Walking Can Reduce Influence of Obesity Gene

walking obesityNew research presented at last month’s American Heart Association meeting found that people who are genetically-inclined toward obesity can decrease the effect of obesity-related genes by 50 percent by spending an hour each day briskly walking.  Researchers from Harvard studied data on more than 12,000 people who were participating in two studies by health professionals. To figure out each participant’s genetic risk of obesity, they identified how many of the 32 known variants of the so-called obesity gene, or FTO gene, each had. The researchers then analyzed data on how many hours each week the participants spent watching television, as well as exercising.  Two years into the study they collected participants’ Body Mass Index (BMI), a ratio of height to weight.

The key finding from this data was that for every additional obesity-related gene variant a person had, there was a 0.13-unit increase in BMI. Therefore, they found that a person with 7 to 8 variants would be expected to have a BMI approximately one unit larger than it would be without the variants. For people who spent the most time watching television, the effect of the variants were the greatest. To illustrate this relationship, for example, in people who spent 40 hours or more weekly watching television, the variants’ effect on BMI was about four times greater than in participants who watched just an hour or less. The findings indicated that television watching has an exuberating effect on obesity-genes. However, in order to weaken the effect of the genes, they found that the solution is as simple as turning off the television and going for a walk. The researchers point out that the findings don’t mean that it’s necessary to eliminate television altogether, since it is the lack of movement, not television-watching in itself that is risky. They suggest that people keep moving while watching their favorite show and to use a pedometer to track and encourage movement throughout the day.

Dr. Mark Fusco, expert weight loss surgeon in Florida, commented on the study, saying that it’s interesting and highlights two important aspects of obesity treatment: “Firstly, it highlights the very central role of activity in both weight reduction and weight maintenance,” he said. “Secondly, the study is reassuring for those with significant family history of obesity. It indicates that through alterations in gene expression, the likelihood of obesity can be modulated,” Fusco concluded.

Related Reading: Genetic Risks of Obesity Affected by Sleep?


  1. Walking Can Reduce Influence of Obesity Gene | LifeShape Advanced Bariatric Center of Florida - April 18, 2012

    […] Fusco is quoted in a recent Doctors of Weight loss article reviewing a study examining the effects of activity on genetic […]