Fat Gene Found

You can now now blame your parents if you're fat, according to new research out from Oxford University.

Scientists have found the strongest evidence so far of a direct connection between the FTO (fat mass and obesity associated) gene and increased body weight, which may pave the way for developing a revolutionary anti-obesity pill.

The research follows a discovery in 2007 that identified a genetic variant within the FTO gene as being linked to a high likelihood of obesity.

But NHS Oxfordshire have pointed out to Heart that although this research is encouraging, only 16% of people have this gene - compared to around 60% of us being obese or overweight.

The scientists say people with two copies of the genetic variant were on average 3kg heavier than those without it.

In this year's study, the scientists bred mice with extra copies of the FTO gene, finding that the test mice, although healthy, ate more and became fatter than normal mice.

Professor Frances Ashcroft, one of the leaders of the research, said:

"This work makes us confident that FTO is an important gene that contributes to obesity. We can now think about developing drugs that turn down the activity of the FTO gene as potential anti-obesity pills. That's a long way off and there's no certainty of success, but it's an enticing prospect.''

The study, funded by the MRC and the Wellcome Trust, was published in the journal Nature Genetics.

After 20 weeks of experiments, female mice with two copies of the FTO gene were 22% heavier than normal female mice, while male mice were 10% heavier.

The researchers said that weight differences in humans with and without the extra copies of the gene would be unlikely to be as large.

Chris Church, a PhD student from the Medical Research Council (MRC) at Harwell and the first author of the study, said that the results were "convincing proof that the FTO gene causes obesity''.

The next step is to understand how it does this, for instance whether it increases appetite by influencing our brain or alters messages from our fat stores and other tissues.

"Once we know how FTO causes obesity we have the potential to look at developing drugs to treat it."

Professor Roger Cox from the MRC added:

"This gene is novel to obesity research and it is going to be exciting to find out how it works. We have the mouse models now to address these questions."

Almost one in three people in the UK is overweight or obese, which can lead to diseases including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Kate King, Health Improvement Principle at NHS Oxfordshire says health education needs to start at an early age.

"It's up to individuals to make those positive lifestyle changes and they need to be able to maintain them. When people are in families it's really important for children to develop good habits early on."

The estimated cost of obesity to the NHS is approximately £1 billion a year, with an additional £2.3 to £2.6 billion a year to the economy as a whole.