The ‘fat’ gene is also the ‘happy’ gene, Canadian scientists discover

Shine On

It turns that having the so-called "fat" gene may not be as bad as previously thought, because new research shows it may also be something of a "happy" gene.

While previous studies that show those who are obese are more likely to be depressed and vice versa, Canadian scientists have discovered that the reason for this connection might have nothing to do with their genetics.

Scientists at McMaster University decided to investigate whether perhaps FTO -- the gene that has been shown to increase the likelihood of obesity -- was also bumping up the chances of depression.

To everyone's surprise, the results showed the opposite was true.

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The study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, analyzed data on 27,000 people, looking at their weight, genetics, and depression levels. After running the numbers multiple times, the team found that people carrying the FTO genetic mutation actually had an 8 per cent reduction in the risk of depression.

So does this mean fat people are happy people?

Not really. The study still found a positive correlation between obesity and depression, but these results reveal that that correlation is not caused by this specific gene as has been previously hypothesized. In other words, genetics might not be making fat people sad. In fact, they're probably sad despite having a better chance at being happy, genetically speaking.

"These results suggest that we might do well to rethink just how obvious the connection between being obese and being depressed really is," writes Lindsay Abrams in The Atlantic.

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According to a 2009 paper titled The Stigma of Obesity: A Review and Update, discrimination against the obese has risen by 66 per cent in the past decade, and is comparable to race discrimination, especially in women.

According to the paper's authors, "Weight bias translates into inequities in employment settings, health-care facilities, and educational institutions, often due to widespread negative stereotypes that overweight and obese persons are lazy, unmotivated, lacking in self-discipline, less competent, noncompliant, and sloppy."

The Canadian Obesity Network also points out the heavy stigmatization of overweight and obese people in the media.

"News photographs and videos tend to portray obese individuals as headless (i.e. only from the shoulders down), from unflattering angles (e.g. with only their abdomens or lower bodies shown), and engaging in stereotypical behaviors (e.g. eating unhealthy foods or engaging in sedentary behavior)."

A Rudd Centre Study has also found that 72 per cent of photographs paired with online news stories about obesity are stigmatizing toward obese individuals.

Weight bias, negative stereotypes and stigmatization by the media. That's a lot for one little 8 per cent genetic advantage to makeup for.