Genetics Isn't Destiny

  • You’re 20 pounds overweight.
  • You have been trying to lose that weight for years and years.
  • Not matter how hard you try, the weight just won’t come off.

Sound familiar?

Maybe it’s your genetics?

In the last few years, study after study has have linked genetics to obesity. Here are just a few of the studies:

And here’s the latest scientific gem:

In this latest study, scientists from the University of maryland looked at the common FTO (fat mass and obesity associated) gene variants that have recently been associated with high Body Mass Index (BMI) and obesity in several large studies.

Specifically, they investigated the effect that physical activity can have in those people born with the FTO gene variant.

Can Exercise Trump Genetics?

A little background on the FTO gene variant:

  • Carriers of this gene variant are more likely to be obese.
  • In fact, people with two copies of the FTO variant are on average 7 pounds heavier and 67 percent more likely to be obese than those who don’t have it.
  • Carriers also have higher rates of type 2 Diabetes.
  • The International HapMap Project estimates the number of FTO carriers as:
  • 45% in the West/Central Europeans population
  • 52% in Yorubans (West African natives) population
  • 14% in Chinese/Japanese population

The Study

Researchers looked at a population of Old Order Amish in conducting this study.

The Amish were used because:

  • Their day to day activities provide a high level of physical exercise. This is due to the fact that the Amish don’t drive cars or have electricity in their homes, eschewing many of the trappings of modern life. Most Amish men are farmers or work in physically demanding occupations such as blacksmithing or carpentry. Women are homemakers who work without the aid of modern appliances and often care for many children.

The researchers tested the particpants for:

  • The presence of the FTO gene variant
  • Their BMI scores
  • Their levels of physical activity

The participants’ activity levels were measured with the aid of accelerometers, worn on the participants’ hips.

The researchers gathered measurements of their physical activity over seven consecutive days.

Participants were classified as “high activity” or “low activity” depending upon their accelerometer readings.

The “high activity” group burned 900 more calories per day than the “low activity” group. This total translates into 3 to 4 hours of moderate intensity activity, such as brisk walking, housecleaning or gardening.

The Results

The researchers found that the Amish people with the FTO variant were no more likely to be overweight than their non-FTO carrying cousins….as long as they got their three to four hours of moderate activity every day.


Genetics isn’t Destiny

Being born with a FTO gene variant does not guarantee a lifetime of obesity and diabetes. Your health and physical appearance is up to you and the lifestyle choices you make.


  1. How do you think this 3-4 hours would translate to a non-Amish person? How much do we get daily, and how much would have to be supplemented with exercise? I’m already failing at making myself go to the gym (I don’t have much willpower anyway, and grad school is not conducive to free time). If I have to exercise 3-4 hours every day, I may as well give up now.

  2. Brit,

    Obviously us non-Amish have no intention of turning back the technology clock just to burn an extra 900 calories per day.

    If we assume that how we burn the 900 calories is irrelevant – working on the farm or working out at the gym – then we just need to find ways to get those 900 calories each day.

    We can do that a few ways:

    1. Increase your everyday caloric burn – stairs instead of elevator, walk instead of drive (if possible), stand instead of sit, replace sedentary activities (T.V.) with non-sedentary (walk the dog, clean the house, mop the floors, etc…)

    2. Schedule structured exercise into each day – mix it up to prevent overuse injuries – run, walk, weights, cardio classes, aerobic machines, sports, yoga, pilates, hiit training, calisthenics…

    3. Increase post exercise caloric burn – not all workouts are created equal – yoga has many physical benefits but post exercise fat burn isn’t one of them. High Intensity (not weight, intensity) circuit training has a huge effect on post workout fat burn

    Now, fitting it into your schedule may require some work. I understand the demands of graduate school (I have been in your shoes) on your time, energy, sanity.

    However, quite a few of my clients have schedules that you would not believe. And they are the ones that never miss a workout.

    At this point in your life, working out is probably not the most important to-do in your schedule.

    Maybe you could take a second look and see where it fits in your list of priorities. If it ranks high enough to include 30-60 minutes a day, there are at-home workouts that you could do that would get you pretty close to those 900 calories.

    Either way, good luck at school.

  3. That sucks…..I work out every morning and have difficulty losing weight even though i feel great and all, Always thought weight gain is related to genes and not only that, fat cells dont dissapear they just shrink, so if you stop doing exercise the cells just “fatten up” again…..

    Now, wouldnt it be interesting if the fatty gene could be related to ancestors that had to store reserves for times when food was scarce, just like animals today…Now that would be interesting.

    thanks for this great info.

  4. […] to a new study, children born with a genetic mutation known as a copy number variation (CNV), are genetically susceptible to developing childhood […]

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