The developed world is floundering in a rising tide of fat. Reading the literature or listening to the news, several villians are blamed for this intensifying problem. If it is not the soft drink companies, then it is the fast food industry. Or, the city planners who design neighborhoods that are not walkable. Or the increasing crime in our inner cities or the lack of accessible fresh foods and vegetables. In addition, our faster-than-the-speed-of-thought lifestyles do not leave room for regular trips to the gym to work off the extra calories we are taking in. The calculus is somewhat different for each of us, but the outcome is the same: We are literally too big for our britches.
Genes as a causative factor are hardly ever included in the long list of obesity antecedents. This emerging field of obesity genetics is providing new insights on the mechanisms of how and why both individuals and populations respond to obesogenic environmental and behaviorial factors. If public health professionals are to get a handle on the obesity epidemic and come up with better and more complete interventions for prevention, we cannot continue to ignore genetics in our understanding of and approaches to the problem and the solutions.
The first step in integrating genetics is to learn about what genetics is showing us about obesity. The Public Library of Science Genetics has just published a short (8 pages) accessible review on the genetics of obesity by David Mutch and Karine Clement. This review provides a brief overview of what is known about the role of genes in obesity, from single gene causes of obesity, genetic syndromes that include obesity and, most important from the population-based perspective, genetic susceptibility and gene-environment interaction that contribute to common types of obesity. This review is freely accessible and does not require registration or membership or a subscription.