A study has identified three genes as responsible for preventing health problems associated with obesity, in some individuals. A percentage of the obese population do not suffer from diabetes and heart disease, and the study attributes this to genes which determine whether fat is stored around the outside of the body, instead of being allowed to flood the circulatory system, which can lead to type 2 diabetes and fatty deposits around the heart and liver.

One of the scientists who led the study, Haja Kadarmideen, a geneticist from the University of Copenhagen, explained “People who have the ability to store large amounts of fat are able to be fat, but not unhealthy.”

The research follows up on prior studies that have shown 15 to 20 percent of obese people do not suffer from associated health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Another study involving over 100,000 adults in Denmark found that those in the “overweight” category of the body mass index were likely to live longer than those in the “healthy”, “underweight”, or “obese” category, calling further into question the relationship between weight, health, and lifespan. Kadarmideen added:

“We wanted to ask what is it that allows some people to be overweight and remain healthy.”

The study ultimately suggests that according to genetic makeup, the weight levels at which health problems start to occur can vary greatly in individuals. This means that some people who have a “healthy” body mass index may have a lower threshold, developing metabolic problems linked to obesity without becoming overweight.

The study examined 60 “obese” individuals with an average BMI over 45, all of whom were undergoing elective bariatric surgery. Half these individuals were healthy, while the other half suffered from metabolic disease. Researchers scanned hundreds of thousands of genes in search of variations between the two groups. The researchers found that genes had a considerable influence on regulating the transportation and storage of fat throughout the body.  The researchers now hope to replicate these findings in a larger population. Research like this could eventually allow doctors to provide personalized estimates for a healthy BMI, based on varying genetic profiles and other factors.

“This paves the way for being able to diagnose, develop drugs and target treatment at the specific genes,” according to Kadarmideen.

However, he also cautioned that following guidelines for diet and exercise are still important for a healthy lifestyle, regardless of BMI and weight.

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