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The appetite genes: Why some of us are born to eat too much

By Elie Dolgin

YOU’VE just finished an indulgent meal, the plates have been cleared and you sit back in your seat, stuffed. You couldn’t possibly manage another bite. But then it turns out they have sticky toffee pudding, your favourite dessert. Oh go on then, you can make room.

We all succumb to temptation. And it’s no secret that people have big differences in appetite – some eat like birds, others like horses. But only some of these differences reflect our energy needs.

The driving factors for weight gain tend to get oversimplified: studies show that most people still think obesity is down to laziness and gluttony. Others tend to shrug and blame “big bones” or “bad genes”.

Genes play a part: they may be responsible for as much as two-thirds of our variation in weight. But they aren’t betraying us in the way many assume. Some slow down our metabolic rate, leading to a build-up of fat, but they are the exception. Instead, most make people chubby in a more insidious way: by subtly affecting how appealing food seems to us, and how quickly we feel full.


indulgent: allowing someone to have or do what they want, especially when this is not good for them

succumb: to lose determination to oppose something, or to accept defeat

gluttony: a situation in which people eat and drink more than they need to

metabolic: relating to metabolism (= the chemical processes within the body required for life)

insidious: (of something unpleasant or dangerous)gradually and secretly causing harm

subtly: achieved in a quiet way that does not attract attention to itself and is therefore good or clever

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