Brain and Body

Personalized Diets Based on DNA Could Be the Future of Weight Loss

January 6, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Woman holding out the pants she wore before losing weight
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In as little as 5 years.

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2010 showed that over two-thirds of the American population is considered to be overweight or obese. To add to the concern, Slate reports that 97 percent of dieters regain all of the weight they lost and sometimes more within three years. Weight-loss studies can be deceptive since most obesity research follows people for less than 18 months, which doesn’t paint an honest picture of the struggle to maintain a lower weight.

It’s difficult for doctors and personal trainers to determine the perfect diet and workout routine for an individual because all of our bodies are different. Even small tweaks to a routine or diet could make all of the difference, and now researchers are working toward creating what they call “precision weight loss.”

This weight loss method would be so precise that it would be tailored to an individual’s unique genetic makeup, according to the study published in the January 2016 issue of Obesity.

SEE ALSO: Eating Sweets Could Actually Help Control Eating Habits

How would it work? Patients would submit a saliva sample or a cheek swab to a lab that sequences DNA. The lab would feed the patient’s DNA into an algorithm, along with the individual’s levels of activity, stress, and diet, which would be gathered by FitBit-like sensors. With all of this unique information, the program would then produce recommendations for how individuals can best achieve their weight loss goals.

"I think within five years, we'll see people start to use a combination of genetic, behavioral and other sophisticated data to develop individualised weight management plans," Molly Bray, a geneticist and nutrition scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, who recently led a report on the genetics of weight loss for the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), said in a press release.

Of course, the food we consume and the amount of exercise we do affects our weight, but genes also play a significant role in obesity. There’s not just one obesity gene, according to Popular Science; for example, a mutation in one gene makes energy from food more likely to be stored as fat instead of burned, while another gene affects the levels of a hormone called leptin, which could make someone more likely to overeat.

"When people hear that genes may be playing a role in their weight loss success, they don't say, 'Oh great, I just won't exercise any more,'" says Bray. "They actually say 'Oh thank you. Finally someone acknowledges that it's harder work for me than it is for others.' And then I think they're a little more forgiving of themselves, and they're more motivated to make a change."

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health, and was co-authored by an impressive array of scientists representing a number of elite institutions like Harvard Medical School and the Stanford University School of Medicine.

"Obesity is one of the gravest problems of our times," says Bray. "Obviously prevention would be the best approach, but there are literally millions of individuals who are currently obese and are in dire need of more effective strategies for long-term weight loss that will ultimately improve overall health.”

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