The research conducted by the University of Exeter, Exeter Clinical Research Facility, and the University of Bristol suggests that individuals with a higher genetic risk of obesity may experience increased feelings of hunger and lose control over their eating behaviors. However, the study found that practicing dietary restraint can help mitigate these effects. The findings indicate that individuals with a higher genetic risk of obesity can reduce the impact of genetic factors on hunger and uncontrolled eating by up to half through the exercise of restraint.
The study, titled “Mediation and moderation of genetic risk to obesity through eating behaviors in two UK cohorts,” was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and was supported by the Medical Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership. The researchers analyzed data from 3,780 adults aged between 22 and 92 years old from two UK cohorts: the Genetics of Appetite Study and the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. Participants’ weight and height were measured, and DNA samples were collected to calculate their genetic risk scores for obesity. Additionally, participants completed questionnaires assessing various eating behaviors, including disinhibition (binge or emotional eating) and overeating due to hunger.
Psychology PhD student, Shahina Begum, from the University of Exeter is lead author and stated, “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 confirmed that individuals with higher genetic risk scores had higher body mass indexes (BMI), partially due to increased disinhibition and hunger. However, the researchers also discovered that individuals who exhibited high levels of dietary restraint were able to reduce the effects of genetic risk by almost half for disinhibition and by a third for hunger. This suggests that practicing restraint may counteract some of the effects of genetic predisposition to obesity.
The study also explored different types of dietary restraint, including flexible strategies (being mindful of food choices and portion sizes) and rigid strategies (calorie counting). Both types of restraint were found to potentially improve BMI in individuals genetically at risk of obesity, marking the first time their influence has been tested.
These findings provide valuable insights into the complex relationship between genetics, eating behaviors, and obesity. They suggest that individuals with a higher genetic risk of obesity can potentially mitigate the effects of their genetic predisposition through the practice of dietary restraint. It is important to note that this research adds to the growing body of knowledge surrounding obesity and genetics, but individual outcomes may still vary, and further research is necessary to fully understand the mechanisms involved.
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