A new study by European investigators explores why obesity is more common in some areas that others. Investigators reviewed obesity rates in different parts of Scotland and discovered genetic factors play less of a role than lifestyle factors.
As such, public health initiatives that focus on zip codes in deprived areas could help to close this gap and tackle health inequalities between regions, say researchers.
Although it is well known that rates of obesity vary between different geographic regions within a country, the relative impact of genetics and lifestyle on this variability has been unclear.
University of Edinburgh researchers examined health information from 11,000 people from across Scotland, to determine whether genetic factors or lifestyle differences were the cause of regional differences in obesity rates.
They looked at health traits related to obesity, including weight and body mass index (BMI), from people living in different regions. This information was then matched to genetic information from DNA tests and records of lifestyle and socio-economic factors.
When the team compared data between geographical regions, they found that lifestyle factors such as smoking, alcohol, diet, and other measures of deprivation, had the biggest impact on differences in obesity rates.
In Scotland, as in the U.S., major health inequalities exist between regions. In Scotland, people living in the most deprived areas can expect to live up to seven years less than those living in the most affluent regions.
Researchers say helping people to change their diet, activity levels, and behavior could reduce differences in obesity rates, and so help narrow the health divide between regions.
The research appears in the journal Nature Communications. Participants for the study were drawn from Generation Scotland, a research resource with health data available from more than 20,000 volunteers.
Lead researcher Professor Chris Haley said, “Our findings reveal that the factors that have the greatest impact on regional obesity rates can be modified. This is good news because it means we can do something about the problem and potentially narrow the health gap between areas that are least and worst affected.
“Our research supports the conclusion that if we are to understand and then reduce the causes of health inequalities, we need to take into account both genetic and lifestyle differences between individuals.”
Source: University of Edinburg