The link between a particular gene variant and the development of obesity may be affected by the year in which one is bor, according to a new study.
The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that environmental factors may affect the development of obesity, and therefore the risk of developing related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
By examining data from the 1948 Framingham Heart Study, researchers found that the link between the FTO gene variant – the most well-known gene variant associated with obesity – and body mass index (BMI) was significantly affected by age: the younger the participant, the more profound the link.
The results indicate that the connection between certain gene variants and obesity depends at least to some extent on when people were bor, which in turn suggests that environmental factors have a part to play.
The research was conducted by analysing the link between BMI and inherited FTO variants. The correlation between FTO and obesity had not been documented prior to 1942.
The study failed to identify the particular environmental changes since 1942 that have caused the FTO variant to raise the risk of obesity, but the authors did suggest that the replacement of physical labour with technology and the increasing availability of processed foods are likely to have influenced the change.
Dr. Niels Rosenquist, of Harvard University and the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry, Bosto, explained:
“Genetics only begin to tell the story. It’s important, but there are all these others factors that come into play.
“Since the discovery of the human genome structure, there has been a tremendous amount of interest in linking various genes with what happens next…instead of focusing on specific environmental factors, we looked at whether the epoch you were born in had an impact on whether or not these genes have a strong significance.”
The findings could facilitate the development of personalised medicine, as well as making it easier to accurately assess risk. “If you’re able to parse out when and where these things have an effect, you can a much more accurate job of identifying individual risk and susceptibility to medications…the finding suggests it’s not just who you are, but where and when.”

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