Scientists Use Genetics to Predict a Baby’s Risk of Obesity


Scientists are using a genetic scorecard to attempt to predict the likelihood of a baby becoming obese. They are making use of many different genetic variants for this prediction because some people naturally have a greater predisposition to obesity. Critics of the methodology have highlighted the fact that obesity is determined by many other factors besides genetics.

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The Methodology Used for the Scorecard

The new study is co-authored by Massachusetts General Hospital and Broad Institute cardiologist, Amit Khera. The team’s work has just been published in Cell and illustrates the major contribution that genetics plan in determining conditions that are experienced later in life. Genetic factors affecting weight gain explain why others have to work harder to burn off excess weight.

To design the new genetic scorecard, the researchers looked at 2.1 million genetic variants. These were combined into a score that gives the genetic disposition to severe obesity. They found that people with scores in the top 10% weighed 29 pounds more than those with scores in the bottom 10%, on average. These findings are significant and give merit to the new scorecard.

Not all results were as clear cut. Some people who scored very highly on the scorecard had normal body weights. Although the scorecard helps predict the role of a person’s genes in obesity, it does not account for lifestyle choices and a range of other environmental influences. Even if a person is genetically disposed to be very obese, that does not make it a closed case. Their lifestyle choices including diet, exercise, and careful monitoring also have an important role to play.

The researchers also made use of the body mass index (BMI) to study the risk of obesity. This measures a person’s body fat based on their height and weight. They found that those who had the highest scores were 25 times more likely to be severely obese than those with the lowest scores.

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