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This Theory Is Gaining Weight

Are you ready to accept a theory that could be as revolutionary to the fitness industry as the world-is-round theory was to people some 500 years ago? Health experts and people in the fitness industry often associate being overweight with a lack of exercise and bad nutrition. But what if science proved that people are fat because of their biology?

For some time, researchers have theorized that genetics may play a part in determining a person's weight, and some studies had even implicated a few genes as possible culprits. However, in April, British researchers published a report in the journal Science in which they said there is clear evidence that the presence of the gene FTO increased a person's risk of being obese. People with two copies of the gene had a 70 percent higher risk of being obese than people without the gene.

Then in July, researchers at Harvard Medical School and INSERM, a French research institute, found a gene called PRDM16 in brown fat but not in white fat. Brown fat is typically found in babies and keeps them warm by dissipating food energy as heat. By adulthood, brown fat disappears from the human body, and the food that adults eat typically turns into white fat. When researchers injected the PRDM16 gene into mice, it helped turn the cells into brown fat cells. The researchers suggest that injection of PRDM16 in adult humans might help people regain brown fat, which would burn calories rather than store them as white fat.

In August, a study from researchers at Cambridge University in England showed that when the hormone leptin was injected into people who had a rare genetic disorder in which they lacked the hormone, they ate less. However, injection of the hormone in people with normal leptin levels did not help them eat less. The researchers used imaging technology to track brain activity while the subjects viewed pictures of food to locate areas that are activated when a person desires food. People with a lack of leptin showed activity in those areas even if they had just eaten. The researchers say that the study helps show that biology — rather than greed — drives the desire for food and subsequent overeating and obesity.

Another study released in August showed that a common virus, adenovirus-36, can cause human adult stem cells to turn into fat cells. Obese people were three times more likely to have the virus in their system than thin people.

Then in September, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas reported that the gene adp, or adipose, could make mice heavier or thinner depending on how the gene was tweaked. The researchers say tweaking this gene could also work in humans.

More studies are ongoing, which means that the evidence could grow to negate the belief that obesity is simply caused by lack of exercise and a bad diet. How will that affect people's often prejudiced views of obese people? Will the studies give people an excuse not to exercise and instead just wait for a pill? Will scientists soon be able to tweak people's genes so they are thin? What does this mean for fitness facilities?

My hope is that if science proves biology's effect on a person's weight, then the outcome will be good for the fitness industry. Perhaps then obesity will be seen as a genetic condition, leading insurance companies to pay for treatments and preventive measures, including health club memberships. Regardless, fitness professionals must keep up with studies like these because they may change the way we view and work with obese people in the future.

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