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Junk food may not be dangerous for a quarter of people, says scientists

15 January 2015

A new study has looked into the possibility of obese people having a propensity for metabolic problems based on their genetic makeup. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and carried out at the University of Washington, followed the change in metabolic problems (i.e diabetes and cardiovascular disease) in 20 participants as they gained around 6% of their initial body weight.

The participants were split into two demographics; those deemed metabolically normal obese (MNO) and those metabolically abnormal obese (MAO). They were split based upon their intrahepatic triglyceride level (IHTG), those with a level higher than 10% deemed MAO and those with a level lower than 5.6% MNO. The subjects were evaluated before the study to establish their health and were instructed to eat an extra 1000 kcal a day from five hand-picked fast food restaurants until they gained between 5% and 7% of their body weight.

The study found that the metabolic risk factors for cardiovascular disease (e.g. increase in blood pressure, increase in plasma triglyceride levels and a decrease in insulin sensitivity) worsened as the people who were considered MAO (IHTG>10%) gained moderate weight. The people deemed MNO (IHTG >5.6%) were found to be resistant to the adverse metabolic effects of modest weight gain and it was proposed that this is due to them having a distinct phenotype causing them to be resistant. However, it is possible that MNO people could eventually develop the negative effects if further weight gain (>6%) occurs.

It can there therefore be considered that an obese patient’s IHTG level can be used to determine their potential risks of further complications from weight gain instead of their BMI. With 35% of obese adults having a normal IHTG content, this could change the way health professionals look at obesity and aid them in determining those who are seriously at risk. (The Journal of Clinical Investigation)

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