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Animal study

Early intervention key to weight loss

Studies in mice involved using a genetic "switch" to control the animals' satiety. Photo: Flickr / Stephen Barnett
Weight regain "almost inevitable" after late weight loss
Study identifies genetic "switch" that controls hunger

An animal study has shown that early intervention may be the key to weight loss, placing some doubt of the validity of severe calorie restriction and strenuous exercise programmes, as the regaining of weight appears to be ”almost unavoidable“.

A novel animal model showed that the longer mice remained overweight, the more "irreversible" obesity became, according to the study, “Obesity-programmed mice are rescued by early genetic intervention”, which has been published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“Our model demonstrates that obesity is in part a self-perpetuating disorder.” Dr Malcolm J Low

"Our model demonstrates that obesity is in part a self-perpetuating disorder and the results further emphasise the importance of early intervention in childhood to try to prevent the condition whose effects can last a lifetime," said senior author Dr Malcolm J Low, professor of molecular and integrative physiology and internal medicine, University of Michigan. "Our new animal model will be useful in pinpointing the reasons why most adults find it exceedingly difficult to maintain meaningful weight loss from dieting and exercise alone."

Joint research between the University of Michigan and the Argentina-based National Council of Science and Technology (CONICET), revealed that over time, the static, obese state of the mice reset the "normal" body weight set point, to become permanently elevated, despite dieting that initially worked to shed pounds.

The researchers said that one of the major strengths of the research was a new model of obesity-programmed mice that allowed weight loss success to be tracked at different stages and ages by “flipping” a genetic switch that controls hunger.

Turning on the switch soon after weaning prevented the mice from overeating and ever becoming obese. The mice that remained at a healthy weight into young adulthood by strict dieting alone were able to maintain normal weight without dieting, after turning on the switch. However, chronically overfed mice with the earliest onset of obesity never completely returned to normal weight after flipping the switch, despite marked reduction in food intake and increased activity.

"Somewhere along the way, if obesity is allowed to continue, the body appears to flip a switch that re-programmes to a heavier set weight," said Low. "The exact mechanisms that cause this shift are still unknown and require much further study that will help us better understand why the regaining of weight seems almost unavoidable."

The lead author of the study was Dr Viviana F Bumaschny, assistant investigator of CONICET.

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