Active life counters obesity gene, and why a big circle of friends is good for health

Individuals predisposed to gaining kilograms can fight their body weight destiny through diet and physical activity

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 January, 2016, 4:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 January, 2016, 8:00pm

A physically active lifestyle can blunt the effect of inherited obesity genes, McMaster University researchers have found. “This provides a message of hope for people with obesity predisposing genes that they can do something about it. Our body weight destiny is not only written in our genetic blueprint,” says lead researcher David Meyre, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics. His team looked at data from up to 17,400 people from six ethnic groups (South Asian, East Asian, European, African, Latin American, Native North American) who were recruited from 17 countries and followed for more than three years. The researchers used both basic and precise (metabolic equivalent score) measures of physical activity, and compared the traditional body mass index to the recently developed body adiposity index. They analysed the impact of 14 obesity predisposing genes and found that physical activity can blunt the genetic effect of FTO, the major contributor to common obesity, by up to 75 per cent. “These promising results encourage us to investigate how additional lifestyle factors, such as diet, stress and sleep patterns, may impact the genetic predisposition to obesity,” says Meyre.

Social networks as important as exercise and diet across the span of our lives

The more social ties people have at an early age, the better their health is at the beginning and end of their lives, according to a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study, which drew on data from four nationally representative surveys of the US population, found definitive links between social relationships and concrete measures of physical well-being such as abdominal obesity, inflammation, and high blood pressure. Specifically, the team found that the sheer size of a person’s social network was important for health in early and late adulthood. In adolescence, social isolation increased risk of inflammation by the same amount as physical inactivity while social integration protected against abdominal obesity. In old age, social isolation was actually more harmful to health than diabetes on developing and controlling hypertension. In middle adulthood, it wasn’t the number of social connections that mattered, but what those connections provided in terms of social support or strain. “Based on these findings, it should be as important to encourage adolescents and young adults to build broad social relationships and social skills for interacting with others as it is to eat healthily and be physically active,” says researcher Kathleen Mullan Harris.

Sugary drinks tax in Mexico linked with 12 per cent cut in sales after one year

In Mexico, a 10 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks has been associated with an overall 12 per cent reduction in sales and a 4 per cent increase in purchases of untaxed beverages one year after implementation, finds a study published by The BMJ. Mexico, which has some of the highest levels of diabetes, overweight, and obesity in the world, implemented an excise tax of 1 peso (HK$0.45) per litre on sugar-sweetened beverages from January 1, 2014. Using nationally representative food purchase data from more than 6,200 Mexican households across 53 large cities above 50,000 inhabitants, the researchers compared predicted volumes of taxed and untaxed beverages purchased in 2014 with the estimated volumes that would have been expected without the tax, based on pretax trends. Purchases of taxed beverages decreased by an average of 6 per cent in 2014 compared with expected purchases without the tax. Furthermore, these reductions became large over time, reaching a 12 per cent decline by December 2014. In other words, during 2014 the average urban Mexican purchased 4.2 fewer litres of taxed beverages than expected without the tax. In contrast, purchases of untaxed beverages were 4 per cent higher than expected without the tax, mainly driven by an increase in purchases of bottled plain water. This translates to the purchase of 12.8 more litres of untaxed beverages by the average urban Mexican over 2014 than expected.