• Friday, March 01, 2024


Dietary restraint can mitigate genetic risk of obesity: study

Over 900 genes have been identified by researchers as linked to BMI, and multiple studies suggest that these risk genes influence feelings of hunger

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

New research suggests that individuals with obesity risk genes experience increased hunger and a lack of control over their eating behaviours. However, the study indicates that practicing dietary restrictions may offer a potential solution to counteract these effects.

The research, conducted by the University of Exeter, Exeter Clinical Research Facility, and the University of Bristol, with support from the Medical Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership, was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The study found that individuals with a higher genetic risk of obesity could mitigate the impact of these factors, transmitted through hunger and impulsive eating, by up to half through the practice of dietary restraint.

The paper titled “Mediation and moderation of genetic risk to obesity through eating behaviors in two UK cohorts” presents the findings in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Psychology PhD student, Shahina Begum, from the University of Exeter is lead author and said, “At a time when high-calorie foods are aggressively marketed to us, it’s more important than ever to understand how genes influence BMI. We already know that these genes impact traits and behaviours such as hunger and emotional eating, but what makes this study different is that we tested the influence of two types of dietary restraint — rigid and flexible — on the effect of these behaviours.

“What we discovered for the first time was that increasing both types of restraint could potentially improve BMI in people genetically at risk; meaning that restraint-based interventions could be useful to target the problem.”

The study, conducted by researchers, delves into the impact of genes associated with obesity on BMI. It reveals that up to 25% of the effect on BMI can be attributed to increases in hunger and uncontrolled eating, including emotional eating.

Over 900 genes have been identified by researchers as linked to BMI, and multiple studies suggest that these risk genes influence feelings of hunger and loss of control towards food.

For this research, a total of 3,780 adults aged between 22 and 92 years old from two UK cohorts – the Genetics of Appetite Study and Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children – were examined. The participants’ weight and height were measured, and DNA samples were collected through blood to calculate an overall score for their genetic risk of obesity.

They then completed questionnaires to measure 13 different eating behaviours, including disinhibition (a tendency to engage in binge or emotional eating) and over-eating due to hunger.

As expected, researchers found that a higher genetic risk score was associated with a higher BMI, partly due to increased disinhibition and hunger.

However, results also found that those who had high levels of dietary restraint reduced those effects by almost half for disinhibition and a third for hunger, suggesting that restraint may counteract some of the effects of genetic risk.

There are different types of dietary restraint, including flexible strategies such as being conscious about what you eat and deliberately taking small servings to rigid strategies, like calorie counting.

The study tested the influence of both types of restraint for the first time and found both could potentially improve BMI in people genetically at risk.


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