Bypassing Genetic Obesity Genes?

obesityFact. Obese mothers tend to have kids who themselves will become obese.

Fact. In 2012, 35.7% of US adults and 16.9% of US children age 2 to 19 were obese, according to the CDC

Fact. Half of all U.S. adults will be obese by 2030 unless they change their ways, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Fact. Obesity raises the risk of numerous diseases, from type 2 diabetes to endometrial cancer, chronic heart disease and stroke.

So we were extremely interested to learn of new research that suggests the unhealthy cycle could be broken by weight-loss surgery.  In a first-of-a-kind study, Canadian researchers tested children born to obese women prior to weight loss surgery and their siblings conceived afterward.

thin_fatThe surprising results?  Kids born after mom lost lots of weight were slimmer than their siblings. They also had fewer risk factors for developing diabetes or heart disease.

Even more intriguing, the researchers discovered that numerous genes linked to obesity-related health problems worked differently in the younger siblings than in their older brothers and sisters.

Although diet and exercise will play a huge role in how fit the younger siblings will continue to be, the findings suggest the children born to mothers who have undergone weight loss surgery might have an advantage.

The impact on the genes, you will see the impact for the rest of your life,” predicts lead researcher Dr. Marie-Claude Vohl of Laval University in Quebec City.

gastric bypassSo why would there be a difference? Clearly weight loss surgery doesn’t change a womans’ genes.  However, it seems as if either the surgery or more likely the subsequent weight loss can change how certain genes operate in her child’s body. The researchers suggest that factors inside the womb seem to affect the chemical  ‘dimmer switches’ that make the fetus’ genes speed up or slow down or switch on and off.

Dr. Susan Murphy of Duke University wasn’t involved in the research says it makes biological sense that the earliest nutritional environment could affect a developing metabolism, although she cautions that healthier family habits after mom’s surgery may play a role, too.

The research has implications far beyond the relatively few women who undergo gastric bypass surgery before having a baby. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than half of pregnant women are overweight or obese. Tackling obesity before or during pregnancy can provide a lasting benefit for both mother and baby.

It’s not just a matter of how much moms weigh when they conceive, gaining too much weight during pregnancy increases the child’s risk of eventually developing obesity and diabetes. Overweight mothers have higher levels of sugar and fat in the bloodstream, which in turn makes it to the womb.

How much weight loss is needed to have a healthy baby?

pregnant and obeseIn the study, researchers took blood samples from children born to 20 women before and after the complex gastric bypass surgery, who, on average, lost about 100 pounds. They compared differences in more than 5,600 genes between the younger and older siblings and found significant differences in the activity of certain genes clustered in pathways known to affect blood sugar metabolism and heart disease risk.

Only time will tell if the children born after mom’s surgery really get lasting benefits. Meanwhile, specialists urge women planning a pregnancy to talk with their doctors about their weight ahead of time. Besides having potential long-term consequences, extra pounds can lead to a variety of immediate complications such as an increased risk of premature birth and cesarean sections.

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F as in Fat

Adult obesity rates increased in 28 states in the past year, and declined only in the District of Columbia.

According to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010, a report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, more than two-thirds of states (38) have adult obesity rates above 25%. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20%.

10-out-of-the-11 states with the highest rates of obesity were in the South, with Mississippi weighing in with the highest rates for all adults (33.8%) for the sixth year in a row.

Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges the country has ever faced, and troubling disparities exist based on race, ethnicity, region and income,” stated Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust For America’s Health.

Additional key findings included:

  • Adult obesity rates for African-Americans topped 40% in nine states, 35% in 34 states, and 30% in 43 states and D.C.
  • Rates of adult obesity for Latinos were above 35% in two states (North Dakota and Tennessee), and at 30% and above in 19 states
  • 10 of the 11 states with the highest rates of diabetes are in the South, as are the 10 states with the highest rates of hypertension
  • The number of states where adult obesity rates exceeded 30% doubled in the past year, from four to eight — Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia
  • Northeastern and western states had the lowest adult obesity rates — Colorado remained the lowest at 19.1%.

The numbers speak for themselves. Adult obesity rates continue to rise in the United States. And obesity rates continue to be significantly higher among specific ethnic and racial groups, particularly non-Hispanic black girls and Hispanic boys. But there are encouraging signs. This year’s F as in Fat report offers ample evidence that individuals, families, government, the business community, educators, health care providers are increasingly willing to invest time, energy and resources to solve the obesity crisis.

Meantime, it is up to all of us to take the momentum around obesity, health, disease prevention and wellness and carry it forward.

SRxA’s Word on Health invites you to weigh in on this hefty issue.