VEGA News Item

Genes and the UK's Fatties - 06/05/2008
A Problem Besetting Indian-Origin Brits Most Severely
A Problem Besetting Indian-Origin Brits Most Severely

1. A section of the genetic code that puts half the population of the UK at greater risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease has been discovered that indicates that carriers of the sequence are on average 2kg (44lb) heavier than others and 2cm larger round the waist; they also have a tendency to become resistant to insulin and vulnerable to late-onset diabetes (type 2, syndrome X, which is now appearing in children). While 50% of the UK population carries the obesity-related sequence, it is a third more common among people of Indian Asian ancestry than among Europeans.

2. Genetic screening is one of the measures to identify children most at risk of what has become one of the leading causes of poor health and mortality in the developing world. Professor Jaspal Kooner, lead author of the study at Imperial College, London, explains: “A better understanding of the genes behind problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease means that we will be in a good position to identify people whose genetic inheritance makes them most susceptible. We can’t change their genetic inheritance, but we can focus on preventative measures, including lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise”. Therapies may be developed out of the results of such studies.

3. Obesity rates in Britain have almost quadrupled in the past 25 years, making the country the most obese in Europe. More than 1 in 5 men and 1 in 4 women are now clinically obese. Each year an estimated 30,000 people in England alone die prematurely from obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

4. The research was carried out as part of the London Life Sciences Population project into the environmental and genetic causes of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. To find the gene sequence scientists examined the genetic make-up of 30,000 British citizens of European and Asian ancestry and looked for markers common only among those judged to be obese. The section of genetic code lies close to a gene called MC4R, which is known to control energy levels in the body by regulating our food intakes and how much energy we burn. The gene sequence probably controls the activity of the MCAR gene, which has previously been linked to rare and extreme cases of childhood obesity. The findings fit the unusually high rates of obesity and insulin resistance among people of Indian Asian ancestry, who make up 25 % of the world’s human population, and is expected to account for 40% of global heart disease by 2020.

5. People who inherit a particular form of a gene called FTO were 70% likelier to be obese than those who did not. Like MC4R the FTO gene is thought to influence appetite and use of energy by the body. Taken together, the FTO variant and MC4R gene sequence increase body weight by 4 to 5 kg.

6. Another study conducted by researchers at Oxford University and the Wellcome Trust’s Sanger Institute in Cambridge links a gene sequence close to MC4R with obesity. The results, based on 90,000 people in Sweden, found that those inheriting the section of DNA were 1.5 kg heavier than the others. A big difference was observed between the effect the obesity genes had in childhood and adulthood. Between the ages of 4 and 7 years children gained almost twice as much weight as adults, almost entirely by developing more fat. The precise role in obesity of genetic variants in FTO and near MC4R remains to be discovered, but an understanding is developing on the biological consequences.  


Registered Charity No. 1045293
© VEGA - 2008