09/08/2013 11:26 am ET

Knowing Obesity Gene Status Doesn't Make People Feel Helpless In Losing Weight, Study Suggests


Knowing whether you have the "obesity gene" doesn't seem to be a deterrent against weight loss, according to a new study.

Plus, researchers said, the knowledge could actually help to reduce self-blame for obesity.

"Regardless of gene status or weight, all the volunteers recognized that both genes and behavior are important for weight control," study researcher Susanne Meisel, of the Health Behaviour Research Centre at the University College London, said in a statement. "The results indicate that people are unlikely to believe that genes are destiny and stop engaging with weight control once they know their FTO [obesity gene] status. Although they knew that FTO's effect is only small, they found it motivating and informative. We are now doing a larger study to confirm whether more people react in the same way."

While a gene test for FTO -- which has two variants, one that is linked with high risk of weight gain and one that is with low risk -- is not yet commercially available, researchers are able to conduct it. The Journal of Genetic Counseling study noted that "about 37 percent of the Caucasian population carries one higher-risk (A) allele of the commonest obesity associated FTO variant (rs9939609), and 16 percent carry two (AA); conferring a 20 percent higher lifetime risk of becoming obese than those who carry none."

For the study, researchers tested 18 study participants to see whether they had the weight gain-linked FTO gene variant, and then interviewed them to see how they felt about their status.

They found that study participants who experienced weight struggles considered it helpful to know their gene status. They also said that they didn't think knowing their status made them feel like they were helpless in losing weight, and in fact made them feel less emotionally stressed about their weight.

People with normal weight who had the gene variant "described the result as a 'little warning bell' that would help them to be more conscious of their weight and monitor weight gain in the future," researchers wrote in the study. "Participants struggling with weight control described reassurance and relief of stigma, guilt or self-blame as benefits of receiving the test result. No one expressed a fatalistic attitude, nor was there evidence for a false sense of immunity to weight gain."

What do you think? How would knowing whether you had the "obesity gene" make you feel about your own weight loss journey?