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Obesity: if the genes fit ....

Nature may be far more important than nurture when it comes to obesity, according to a report in the Jan. 23 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE.

A study of 540 Danish adoptees by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the Psykologisk Institut in Copenhagen and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston found a strong relationship between the adult weights of the adopted children and those of their biological parents, and no such relationship between the adoptees and their adoptive parents.

"When we started I thought both sets of parents would have an effect," says Albert J. Stunkard of the University of Pennsylvania. "We were very much surprised not by the fact that we found the [biological parent] relationship but by the lack of association between the adopted parents and the adoptees."

This finding runs counter to the results of a study done several years ago by Pierre Biron of the University of Montreal. Looking at families with both adopted and natural children, Biron found that about half of the relative obesity pattern could be explained by environmental factors, and about half by genetics. The report of no relation at all to environment is "surprising," Biron told SCIENCE NEWS.

At least one animal study, done by Jules Hirsch and his colleagues at Rockeffler University in New York City, showed the same relative influence as in Biron's study. "There is a genetic factor in obesity almost certainly," says Hirsch. While cautioning that he has not yet seen the new study, he comments, "If anyone feels the study shows there not strong social and psychological determinants, they're probably wrong."

The new study took advantage of the Danish Adoption Register, which contains names and addresses of both the adoptive and the biological parents. The researchers sent health questionnaires to adoptees and their biological and adoptive parents, and analyzed the height and weight data.

The study should not signal to dieters that they are doomed by their genes, STunkard says. Researchers and dieters alike know some people lose weight more easily than others; while the study offers an explanation, he says, it does not mean overcoming the genetic input is impossible.
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Title Annotation:genetic factor in obesity
Author:Silberner, Joanne
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 25, 1986
Words:361
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