A study of 350 twins, at Guy's and St Thomas's hospitals in London, has raised hopes of finding a human "obesity gene" and developing new slimming treatments to tackle weight-related problems such as heart disease and cancer.
Using the latest "body-scan" technology which measures bone and muscle mass, researchers found that 60 per cent of body fat in women over 50 is caused by genetic make-up. Earlier studies suggested the figure was closer to 10 per cent. The survey, using identical and non-identical twins, indicates that genes may determine where on the body each individual puts on weight.
Dr Tim Spector, head of the Twin Research Unit, said: "This is important because it is `central obesity' [when extra fat is carried around the waist] which increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes rather than the total amount of fat. If a woman puts on fat round the buttocks and thighs, it is generally a good place to have it, in medical terms."
The research suggests that taking exercise is a more effective way of getting rid of fat than going on a healthier diet, and that women on hormone replacement therapy tend to have less body fat.
"Understanding the factors which regulate the store of body fat will hopefully lead to effective therapies to try and prevent obesity and its associated health problems,",said Dr Spector. "If we can find the genes involved, we should be able to target the diet and exercise regime which is most appropriate."
He appealed for any twins - whether identical or non-identical - willing to help with the research, to contact his team on 0990 770099.Reuse content