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Fried Food More Dangerous If You Have the Wrong Genes

Fried food is bad for everyone, but it might be especially bad for people with the “wrong” genes, researchers reported Tuesday.

They found people with the worst combination of obesity-linked genes were twice as likely to be overweight or obese if they also ate fried foods frequently than people dealt a better genetic hand.

It’s the latest study to show that we are not all created equal when it comes to the risk of weight gain. Some people may have to watch their diets even more carefully than others, the researchers report in the British Medical Journal.

Lu Qi of the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School and colleagues examined data from more than 37,000 people taking part in three big studies looking at health.

Everyone filled out a survey on what they ate and how often, and all had DNA tests. Qi’s team calculated a genetic risk score based on 32 different genetic mutations linked with obesity risk.

Image: French fried potatoes
Fried food, such as french fries, might be especially bad for people with the “wrong” genes, according to new research. Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images

People with the most genetic risk were twice as likely to be overweight or obese if they ate fried food frequently than people with the lowest risk, Qi’s team found.

“We got highly consistent results, which show that the genetic background and consumption of fried food moderate each other’s effect on obesity,” Qi told NBC News. People who ate a lot of fried foods also tended to drink more sugary drinks, exercise less and have other bad habits, but the fried food factor really stood out, Qi said.

Scientists like to say that genes interact with environment and this study is a good example of that happening, said Alexandra Blakemore, professor of human molecular genetics at Imperial College in London.

What isn’t so clear is what, exactly, is going on. The genes can control metabolism and appetite, and they may also be linked with the ability to control eating, Blakemore, who was not involved in the research, said in a commentary.

The study may show that it will not work to use the same medical approaches in everyone who needs to lose weight.

“Where molecular mechanisms are understood, obesity-causing genetic mutations disrupt appetite control systems in the brain, so affected people are unlikely to be able to maintain long term dietary restraint. It might also be unwise to offer them some types of weight loss surgery, such as adjustable gastric banding,” she wrote.

What the study won’t do is change medical advice. Everyone, thin or fat, should avoid fried foods. “It’s difficult for people to reduce their consumption of delicious food. Fried food is really delicious, but it’s harmful,” Qi said.