• Vol. 38 No. 1, 45–47
  • 15 January 2009

The Role of Genes in the Current Obesity Epidemic



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Introduction: Obesity is a global pandemic and a major health concern. Obesity is a common but complex, multifactorial disorder with high heritability, where as much as 80% of the variance in the body mass index (BMI) is attributable to genetic factors

Materials and Methods:Literature on the contributing factors of the current obesity epidemic, and genetic basis of human obesity, were reviewed.

Results: The current increasing prevalence of obesity is a relatively recent global event driven by our modern lifestyle and dietary habits. Common obesity is the result of subtle interaction between numerous related genetic variants and environmental factors. The role of the obesity genes in this current epidemic is passive, but its impact is highly significant, because individuals with these genes may be predisposed to severe or even morbid obesity when exposed to the modern “obesogenic” environment.

Conclusions: The human weight regulation mechanism evolved and becomes efficient in preventing weight loss, but is relatively ineffective in preventing excessive weight gain. The modern “obesogenic” environment encourages a sedentary lifestyle and provides easy access to processed food, which leads to a reduction of energy expenditure and increased caloric intake. We have inadvertently created a biology-environment mismatch, as the human weight regulation is unable to evolve fast enough to keep pace with the environmental change. This resulted in maladaptation of an otherwise sound and metabolically efficient physiological mechanism, with serious metabolic consequences.

Obesity is a global pandemic and a major health concern because of the consequent morbidity and premature mortality; obesity predisposes to serious morbidities such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease. Industrialisation and modernisation is rightly blamed for the increasing obesity prevalence all over the world, as it created an “obesogenic” environment with caloric abundance and ubiquitous automation which encouraged sedentary lifestyles, resulting in energy intake and expenditure imbalance and favours the net deposition of calories as fat. Although this trend of increasing body girth is very much driven by the “obesogenic” environment, it is facilitated by the individual’s genetic susceptibility to excessive weight gain.

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