Study: Daily exercise can derail “fat” DNA in teens

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Sixty minutes. That’s the level of daily exercise it takes for teens to beat the effects of a common obesity-related gene, new research suggests.

While several genes have been linked to obesity, the “fat mass-and-obesity-related gene” (FTO), in various forms, holds particular impact in determining the body's destiny to become fat, according to researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

Students from Von Steuben Metropolitan High School took to the streets in March to protest the budget cuts that sidelined their sophomore teams. Josephine Mallari/Von Steuben Metropolitan High School.Students from Von Steuben Metropolitan High School took to the streets in March to protest the budget cuts that sidelined their sophomore teams. Josephine Mallari/Von Steuben Metropolitan High School.The researchers report that a single copy of the genetic mutation is linked to an average jump in weight of about 3.3 pounds, over a period of 15 months in addition to a larger waist and more body fat.

But just one hour of daily physical activity - especially sports - can offset the FTO gene’s effect according to The HELENA Study released Monday in Sweden and published in the April issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Tell that to sophomore Chicago Pubic School athletes whose teams were benched last month.

The research comes at a time when tight school budgets mean more sports programs are being scrapped in Chicago and elsewhere.

A Chicago Public Schools budget deficit nearing $1 billion led to the abrupt elimination of spring sophomore sports programs in high schools all over Chicago last month.

Close to six thousand student athletes were affected by the cuts, which cut boy and girl teams ranging from softball, baseball and soccer.

“Once you start knocking down any program, whether it’s a major subject or an elective, sports isn’t too far around the corner,” said Martin Rodriguez, athletic director at Von Steuben Metropolitan High School on the city’s North Side.

“It’s a big health issue. Is this a good thing? Obviously not. It affects a lot of kids who are trying to stay fit through sports.”

Jospehine Mallari, 16, the sophomore girls’ volleyball team manager at Von Steuben Metropolitan High School, credits team sports for cultivating a fit lifestyle and fostering a healthy attitude about school. Fahiemah Al-Ali/MEDILL.Jospehine Mallari, 16, the sophomore girls’ volleyball team manager at Von Steuben Metropolitan High School, credits team sports for cultivating a fit lifestyle and fostering a healthy attitude about school. Fahiemah Al-Ali/MEDILL.“Being part of a team is not only just physical health, but it’s also about mentality,” said Josephine Mallari, 16, a sophomore at Von Stebuen and manager of the girls’ sophomore volleyball team.

“Sports helped me stay physically healthy because it prevented me from going and wasting time at McDonalds or buying junk food.”

The European research supports Mallari's impressions. A total of 752 teen subjects from nine countries across Europe participated in the study. 47 percent of them carried one copy of the FTO gene and another 16 percent had two variants of the gene. The final 37 percent had no FTO genes.

Researchers measured activity levels of teens directly by equipping each individual with a device to measure physical movement throughout the day.

Results show body mass indexes (a ratio of weight to height) were .65 points higher on average among teens that didn’t exercise as compared to those without the mutation.

Teens with copies of the FTO gene who exercised a minimum of one hour had BMIs that were only .17 points higher for each copy, as well as body fat levels and waist measurements similar to those who weren’t genetically predisposed to the disease.

The take home point? Genes alone are only one of the chief forces driving physical health and can in fact be offset by physical activity.

The research validates guidelines set out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that encourage children and teens to participate in a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity each day to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“Be active in your way,” lead researcher Jonatan Ruiz of the Karolinska told The Associated Press. “Activities such as playing sports are fine and just enough.”

 

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