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Do Genes Determine Whether We Lose Weight Or Not?

Some people can eat as much as they want without gaining any weight. On the other hand, others who want or have to lose weight for health reasons, may have difficulty. “The reasons for these variations are only poorly understood, although genetic factors should be considered”, Prof. Vojtech Hainer from the Obesity Management Centre, Charles University, Medical Faculty, Prague (Czech Republic), said in a press conference on October 25, 2001 at the ”2nd International Symposium on Obesity and Hypertension” at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch (Germany). Scientists and clinicians are trying to find the reason for this phenomenon and discover the role played by genes in weight loss and weight control. One approach is to carry out twin studies. Monozygotic twins possess the same genetic profile, whereas dizygotic twins have only the same genetic pattern as other siblings. A study of monozygotic female twins in Prague showed that the variations in weight loss were quite marked within the group, ranging from about six kilograms to 12.4 kilograms. However, among those twins who were siblings, the weight loss was almost identical. “The intrapair similarity in weight loss shows that genetic factors play a role in weight loss”, Prof. Hainer stressed. “Increased information about the  multiple genes involved in the regulation of food intake, energy expenditure and fat storage is contributing to a molecular understanding of body weight regulation which will lead to new and more efficient methods for obesity management”, according to Prof. Hainer, chairman of the Czech Obesity Society.

The women in the study were on average 39 years of age and their body weight ranged from just over 70 to 90 kilograms. They were treated for 28 days with a special “very low calory diet (VLCD). Clinicians developed this diet in collaboration with a Research Institute (Dairy Research Institute) ten years ago. This diet has been used in obesity centres to treat hundreds of severly obese patients in recent years.

In the twin study, the women were prescribed physical activity, which was supervised by exercise physiologists and monitored by pedometers. They were also carefully monitored on a daily basis for any side-effects. According to Prof. Hainer, there were none. Additional laboratory tests, which were performed once a week, confirmed these findings and showed that the twins adhered strictly to their diet programme. 60 per cent of the women in this study maintained their weight loss for two years. However, after this, weight maintenance deteriorated, especially in those, who failed to attend for regular checks.

Prof. Hainer also pointed out that the incidenece of obesity increased in Central and Eastern Europe after the political upheaval in 1989. For example, in 1988, about 16 per cent of men between 20 and 65 years of age in former Czechoslovakia (since 1990, the Czech Republic) were overweight, while by 1997 this number had increased to over 22 per cent. Over the same period, the number of overweight women, also 20 to 65 years of age, rose from 20.5 to 25.6 per cent. This is similar to data from the former GDR: in 1985, almost 14 per cent of men between 25 and 65 years of age were overweight, and over 22 per cent of women of the same age. However, by 1992, the numbers had risen to 25 per cent for men and 26.8 per cent for women. A similar picture was found in Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland.

The Prague Obesity Management Centre at Charles University is one of five in the Czech Republic and it was set up in 1988. All centres in Prague, Brno, Plzen, Hradec Kralove and Ostrava are attached to major university hospitals. Annually, the Prague centre treats about 2,000 extremely obese patients. It also offers postgraduate courses for obesity specialists, primary care physicians, dieticians, nurses and counsellors running weight reduction clubs.


Barbara Bachtler
Press and Public Affairs
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10; 13125 Berlin; Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax:  +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 33