Maintaining weight can be difficult especially during the holiday season when many are overindulging on treats and high caloric foods. Molly Bray, PhD, professor at the University of Texas at Austin said, “After the New Year, losing those extra few pounds gained over the holidays is not the biggest challenge – it’s maintaining that weight loss over the long term that can be the most difficult.”

Previous studies showed that response to weight-loss strategies vary widely among people, and that genetics may help explain the efficacy of different treatments. Other studies have discovered 150 genetic variants linked to body mass index (BMI), waist circumference or obesity risk. Not much is known, however, about the genes that influence people who lose weight more easily than others.

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A Working Group created by the Trans-National Institutes of Health (NIH) Committee on Genes, Behavior and Response to Weight Loss Interventions aimed to better understand how genes affect weight both biologically and behaviorally. The Working Group looked at genetic factors leading to weight loss and weight regain, and described possible research directions for the future. Their summarized findings are published in Obesity

Some of the key findings and recommendations include: 

  • Manifestation of an individual’s genes: Research shows that while weight loss interventions may not affect overall body weight/BMI, they may improve fat distribution, increase lean mass or reduce diabetes and cancer risk, suggesting that different types of measurements may be more informative in our understanding of the process of weight loss.

  • Genetic variants as predictors of obesity treatment response: Research has identified genetic variants that make certain individuals more likely to succeed with some treatments over others. For example, those with a certain allele on the MTIF3 gene may be more likely to achieve weight-loss success through intensive lifestyle interventions with a focus on diet and physical activity, while those with a specific FTO variation may achieve greater weight loss following bariatric surgery.

  • Biological systems at work that influence food intake and physical activity: Epigenetics (chemical modifications of genes that may be the result of exposures to certain environments), and the gut microbiome (microorganisms that naturally live in our stomach and help with balancing metabolic function) have been shown to have lasting effects on weight.

  • Genetic impact on food preferences, ingestive behavior and physical activity: Research has shown that certain genes expressed in the brain may lead to a greater preference for and consumption of high-calorie foods. Other studies tie genes to both those who exercise and those who don’t, as well as adherence to an exercise plan and exercise tolerance.

Dr. Bray concluded that utilizing these study findings and expanding research can help provide more personalized obesity treatments for patients that include dietary, physical activity, and other customized methods. 

The Working Group consisted of members from the National Cancer Institute; National Health Lung and Blood Institute; National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; and the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research.
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