Unappetizing Truth: The Link Between Fried Food, Genes, and Weight Gain

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We all know people who can eat as much junk food as they want and not gain a pound, but now we can understand them just a little more. Doctors at Harvard Medical School recently came out with research that shows people with a higher genetic risk for obesity gain more weight when they eat fried foods than people with a lower risk. The research was published in the British Medical Journal on Tuesday, and now, people can understand the link between fried foods, genes, and weight gain a little more clearly.

According to NPR, which reported the team’s findings on Thursday, in order to determine the interaction between genes and fried food, epidemiologist Lu Qi and his team analyzed the dietary habits of nearly 30,000 adults in the U.S. Along with their analysis, they calculated each person’s genetic risk for obesity by analyzing 32 genes known to be linked to the disease. Though these genes don’t dispose someone to automatic obesity, they increase a person’s risk of having a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) at some point in their lives.

From their research, Qi and his colleagues found that people who ate more fried foods gained more weight than those who drove through the drive-thru less frequently. That was to be expected. However, they also found that those who carried more of the obesity genes had higher BMIs, and the volunteers who had both risks factors — a love for fried food and a high number of the genes in question — had the largest BMIs of all groups and also the biggest risk for obesity.

So we now understand a little bit more about why some people eat fried food and never gain a pound while others notice obvious inches on their waistlines after indulging in guilty pleasures. The doctors maintain that the higher genetic risk those with the greater number of obesity genes face isn’t huge. However, the predisposition alone can be the trigger that puts people in the “overweight” category, and they can certainly notice it.

According to NPR, the study also found that eating fried foods four or more times each week is associated with two extra points on the BMI scale for subjects who carry 10 obesity risk genes. For people who don’t have any of the obesity genes, one of those extra BMI points goes away. Thus, if you’re predisposed to obesity, those fried foods really may be hurting you even more than they might be affecting your friend. Less than appetizing news for many.

NPR reports that the Harvard doctors have also gone after sugary drinks — they believe the same genetic disposition for adding pounds may ring true in the case of sugary sweet beverages, too. The team analyzed weekly consumption of sodas, fruit juices, and lemonade a few years ago and reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that drinking at least one sugary beverage each day was associated with a bump in BMI about 1.8 points when people carried 10 of the obesity genes. That bump shrank by nearly half for people without the risk genes.

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That’s even more news that people predisposed to obesity really don’t want to hear, but it is important to note that the Harvard team’s research does have some limitations, and Qi and his researchers still have a long way to go before they can rule out any confounding variables. For example, according to NPR, the researchers couldn’t determine whether the fried food or sugary drinks caused the increase in BMI alone, because in the study, there was a correlation between people who ate a poorer diet and also watched more TV and got less exercise. In addition, the findings were only averages over a large number of people, making it harder to make the same case for every individual.

Nonetheless, the recent research is still alarming for those who have the obesity genes, and it should be a potential reality that many people should stay mindful of. As a whole, many Americans are trying to cut down on their fried food and sugary drinks consumption, but that initiative might be even more important for some people than others.

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