WE ARE in the grip of an obesity epidemic. The latest figures show that two-thirds of the UK population is either overweight or obese, making Britain one of the fattest nations in Europe.
The cost of treating obesity is crippling the NHS – it increases the possibility of many cancers, as well as raising the risk of heart attacks, strokes and Type 2 diabetes.
However the reasons behind our collective weight gain are much more complex than just being greedy or lazy.
Everything in life is influenced by a combination of our genes and our environment. Environmental influences, such as pollution, smoking or easy access to unhealthy food, are external.
Or they can be internal, for example gene modifications created by the food we eat.
We now know that what we eat and drink continues to shape our genes and this can make us more likely, or not, to develop certain diseases.
Research has shown that the quantity and quality of the food we eat not only affects our own health but that of future generations too.
The Överkalix Cohort Study was conducted among residents of an isolated community in the far north-east of Sweden.
Data was collected from three groups of people born in 1890, 1905 and 1920 who were followed up all the way until their deaths (or until 1995). The results were fascinating.
The study was the first to reveal that our disease risk is influenced by the childhood diet of our grandparents, before the growth spurt that happens in teenage years.
So if your grandfather or grandmother overate and over-indulged in food then your risk of heart disease and diabetes is higher.
Conversely if food was not readily available during your father’s childhood then your risk of dying from a heart attack is lower.
So this is another reason we need to watch our children’s diets, not just for them but for the sake of future generations as well.
And although you may not have heard of it there is actually a fatness gene and one in six of us has it.
Carriers of this FTO gene are known to be on average 6-7lb heavier as they have a higher level of “hunger hormones”, making these people feel hungry again soon after they have finished a meal.
Between 40 and 44 per cent of people carry the FTO risk variant and about 16 per cent have two copies.
Those who carry a high-risk version of this FTO gene are roughly 70 per cent more likely to become obese.
This challenges the notion that people become obese because they eat too much or simply don’t exercise enough. A Danish study of nearly 900 overweight men confirmed the link between this gene and fatness and also showed its association with insulin resistance (higher risk of diabetes) and low levels of good cholesterol (HDL) which puts them at a higher risk of heart disease.