Doctor slated for saying people are 'programmed to be fat', but do obesity genes really exist?

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor

A leading doctor has been criticised for saying some individuals are predisposed to being fat because of “obesity genes”.

Obesity is thought to affect around one in every four adults in the UK, and roughly one in five children aged 10 to 11. In recent years, there has been a prevalent debate over whether obesity should be labelled a disease or a lifestyle choice.

Speaking on today’s ‘Good Morning Britain’, Dr Peter Swinyard said: “Some people are programmed to be slim and some people are programmed to be fat.

“If you have a lot of obese genes and you are in an obesogenic environment, and the food companies are very pleased to sell you lots of yummy things, then you are going to be fat if you have those obese genes.

Do you have the obesity gene? [Photo: Getty]

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“There are over 600 identified genes which programme you for obesity.”

But diet guru Steve Miller interrupted, accusing Swinyard of “complicating it”.

He added: “As a doctor, you shouldn’t be giving out the message that it’s OK for people to be fat.”

Do obesity genes really exist?

While some might believe that “fat genes” are a convenient way to explain away unwanted weight, there is solid scientific evidence behind it.

A breakthrough study in 2013 found those who posses the FTO gene, which affects one in six of the population, are 70% more likely to become obese.

And it’s not just the FTO genes – as Dr Swinyard claimed on ‘Good Morning Britain’, research published in 2005 associated over 600 “genes, markers and chromosomal regions” with obesity.

Tam Fry, chairman and spokesman at the National Obesity Forum, told Yahoo UK genes may be up 80% responsible for our weight.

“The FTO gene is the one usually singled out as being the ‘obesity gene’,” he said.

“But in truth there are any number of genes which in combination predispose to obesity.”

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“Since the beginning of time, people have blamed their weight on their genes without really understanding how great the influence is but research has shown that it could be up to 80%.

“This is why so many weight-losers struggle to get slimmer: unfortunately they are stuck with the genes they were born with.”

What to do if you have obesity genes

The health risks of obesity are well-documented. And while the discourse surrounding so-called obesity genes might prove disheartening, some research has found it is possible to beat the odds.

study published last week identified five types of exercise which are best for managing obesity. These include regular jogging, mountain climbing, walking, power walking, certain types of dancing, and long yoga practices.

Another study found those at high genetic risk for obesity will benefit more from sticking to a healthy diet, rich in fruit and vegetables and low in processed foods, compared to those with low genetic risk.