HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lifestyle Choices and Health: Your Social Life Can Impact Your Health And Your Food Choices Can Trump Your Genetic Code To Influence Your Weight

Two new studies came out this week that have interesting implications on the association between  lifestyle choices and disease. The first is a study by Emily Sonestedt, a member of the Marju Orho-Melanders research group at Lund University Diabetes Centre published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This study deals with those who have the risk variant of the FTO gene. The FTO gene is the gene most commonly associated with overweight and obesity. Forty percent of the population have one copy of this gene. Seventeen percent have a double copy, acquired by inheriting one gene from each parent.

As ScienceDaily reports 

[t]he risk of becoming obese is 2.5 times higher for those who have double copies of the best known risk gene for overweight and obesity. However, this is only true if fat consumption is high. A low fat diet neutralizes the harmful effects of the gene…. [In other words,] the risk of obesity was dramatically increased only in the case of high fat consumption.

The second is a study performed by the Universities of Exeter and Queensland, Australia published in the Scientific American Mind. This study reveals that the quality of an individual’s social life may have a greater role in health than diet and exercise. Simply being a part of a social group may significantly reduce both the risk of simple maladies, like the common cold, as well as devastating conditions such as stroke and dementia.

As reported in ScienceDaily, Professor Alex Haslam of the Psychology Department, University of Exeter, made the following comment on this study:

We are social animals who live and have evolved to live in social groups. Membership in groups, from football teams to book clubs and voluntary societies, gives us a sense of social identity. This is an indispensable part of who we are and what we need to be in order to lead rich and fulfilling lives. For this reason groups are central to mental functioning, health and well-being.

[KVT]

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