I’ve always joked that, while I’d really love to chow down on every plate of fries I see, doing so is about equal to me just rubbing the fat right on my thighs… because it’ll be there by morning either way.
While this is, of course, a bit of a joke, the truth is that I can’t get away with bad eating habits. Everyone in my family is “big boned,” and if I want to keep a smaller (or even average) frame, I have to eat decently and hit the gym as often as possible. Being from the south and having been raised on butter and fat-filled food, this is never an easy thing. I one time quit working out and let the diet slip for about two years and gained almost forty pounds. Whoops?
For a lot of us, that’s the normal, day-to-day fight. But we all know people who seem to be able to eat whatever they want and it not have any effect on their outward appearance. Whether this pisses you off or just feels like the way the cookie crumbles (mmm, cookies), there are plenty of reasons for why this happens. And now, we have even more concrete evidence.
Doctors at the Harvard School of Public Health have determined that “people with higher genetic risk for obesity gain more weight when they eat fried foods than people with lower risk,” per their write-up in the British Medical Journal.
Of course, a lot of it is how often you indulge. They write that, “Eating fried foods four or more times each week is associated with two extra points on the body mass index scale when you carry 10 obesity risk genes.”
And, drumroll please, the eye-rolling part: For people who don’t have the obesity genes, one of those extra BMI points melt away. So, basically, those french fries are definitely more fattening for those of us who are naturally predisposed to “obesity genes.” Great. Thanks, mom and dad!
So how did the team come up with this? Epidemiologist Lu Qi and his team analyzed the dietary habits of nearly 30,000 adults in the U.S. and calculated each person’s genetic risk for obesity by analyzing 32 genes known to be linked to the disease. Having the genes doesn’t instantly mean that you’re overweight, but it does increase your risk for having a higher BMI.
As you might have guessed, people who ate more fried foods gained more weight than those who ate less. And of those people, the ones with the obesity genes also had higher BMIs. Volunteers with both risk factors — eating lots of fried food and a high number of fat genes — were the most at risk for high BMIs and obesity. “In other words, a love of fried food may magnify your genetic disposition for adding on pounds,” writes NPR. “And the same may be true for sugary drinks.”
A few years ago, the same team performed a similar experiment analyzing people’s weekly consumption of sodas, fruit juices and lemonade. They determined that drinking at least one sugary beverage each day was associated with a bump in BMI by about 1.8 points, when people carried 10 of the obesity genes. “The soda penalty shrank by nearly half for people without the risk genes,” they wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine.
“In Westernized societies, we are all exposed to calorie-dense food, sedentary lives, stress and sleep deficit,” say geneticists Alexandra Blakemore and Jessica Buxton, from Imperial College London, in a comment about the current study. “Some people seem relatively insensitive to these environmental pressures, while others are severely affected and become obese.”
What we don’t know, as Qi and his team haven’t figured it out yet, is whether the fried foods and/or sugary drinks caused the increase in BMI. Obviously, a love of fried foods can often be an indicator of other unhealthy habits. In this study in particular, they found that people who indulged more often in bad eating habits also tended to watch more TV and workout less, or not at all.
Either way, this is just another reason to think twice before you order those beautiful, tasty french fries… for the third time this week. And if you are curious about your own risk of having an obesity gene, Christpher Ochner from USA Today assures that, “You don’t need a fancy DNA test. Just take a look at your parents.”
Image of french fries via Shutterstock