Working Out Isn't the Secret Weapon for Fighting 'Fat Genes'

woman working outSome people literally lose the genetic lottery when it comes to their weight. Turns out, there's a gene associated with fat mass and obesity, known as the FTO gene or obesity gene. And if you're born with it, you automatically have a higher risk of being overweight or obese, as well as having a higher body mass index, a larger waist circumference, and higher body fat percentage. Totally unfair and annoying as hell, but true.

Thank goodness researchers have established this, because it's ridiculous to point the finger exclusively at the usual suspects (soda, junk food, laziness), when there are people out there who are doing everything they can to steer clear of those things and still struggle to lose weight! But now, a new analysis of 45 studies published in PLoS Medicine is turning this FTO gene theory on its head. Turns out, being physically active can sort of kick the FTO gene's butt.


Working out reduced obesity risk by an average of 27 percent compared with people who were sedentary. (Just FYI, the same effect was not seen in an analysis of nine studies on children and teens. Hope they look into why not!)

All this boils down to: Exercise is good for you and can melt fat even if your DNA is pre-programmed to hold onto it for dear life. Sounds like the same ol', same ol' "Move your butt, you lazy obesers!" spiel, no? Of course exercise is going to help anyone keep their weight in check ... to an extent, but if you're dealing with a certain genetic or psychological situation, this simplistic "calories in, calories out" philosophy is NOT a cure-all.

It used to kill me watching The Biggest Loser, thinking that some people had a ton of psychological issues that weren't being addressed in a formal way. (Maybe they got to buddy up with Jillian for a heartstring-tugging pep talk at one point, but you never see any serious counseling with a mental health professional.) Similarly, studies like these don't address other genetic or environmental issues, like PCOS, adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalance, anti-depressants, etc. So many factors can set you up to struggle against the scale, even when you religiously hit the gym and count calories.  

That's not to say that there isn't merit to what these researchers found. We should all prioritize physical activity. But painting weight-loss as a simple black and white picture and exercise as the magic bullet isn't doing anyone any favors.

What do you think about this study?


Image via lululemon athletica/Flickr

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