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Monday, April 16, 2007

Gene Known as FTO Is Found To Be Linked to Weight Gain

Scientists have found what could be the strongest evidence to date that genetics plays a role in the risk for becoming obese, at least for some people.

A team of researchers, led by Andrew Hattersley of Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, England, discovered what they say is the first clear evidence for a relatively common gene that appears to influence a person's chances of gaining weight.

Hattersley and his colleagues identified the gene by comparing the genes of about 2,000 diabetics with those of about 3,000 people without the disease. A variation of a gene known as FTO, located on chromosome 16, appeared related to weight.

The researchers then analyzed 13 studies involving 38,759 participants of all ages and discovered that those who had two copies of the gene were about 67 percent more likely to be heavier, weighing about seven pounds more on average. About 1 in 6 white Europeans appears to carry two copies of the gene.

"Our findings suggest a possible answer to someone who might ask, 'I eat the same and do as much exercise as my friend next door, so why am I fatter?" said Hattersley, who reported the findings last week in the journal Science. "There is clearly a component to obesity that is genetic."

Scientists are trying to determine exactly what the gene does, hoping that it might lead to new ways to prevent or treat obesity.

-- Rob Stein

Suicide Rates Higher in States With the Most Gun Owners

Nearly twice as many people commit suicide in the 15 U.S. states with the highest rates of gun ownership than in the six states with the lowest rates of gun ownership, although the population of the two groups is about the same, researchers said last week.

The difference testifies to the risk that guns pose to gun owners themselves, said researchers led by Matthew Miller at the Harvard School of Public Health. More than 30,000 people committed suicide in 2004, Miller and his colleagues noted in a study they published in the Journal of Trauma; guns were used in more than half of those cases.

States with higher levels of gun ownership consistently have higher levels of suicide, and that is not because of differences in poverty, unemployment, drug addiction or mental illness, according to Miller's study. It compared suicide rates in all 50 states with rates of gun ownership in those states.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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