Leading article: Blame it on the gene

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Diet gurus should pause for thought. For decades, the health industry has been telling us that losing weight is a matter of nurture, not nature. You get thin, or stay thin, by imposing mental discipline on your appetite.

But what if controlling one's appetite isn't a simple question of mind over matter – and if some people are endowed with the equivalent of an override button that more or less orders them to eat? Such are the conclusions of a scientific study that points to the existence of a so-called "fat gene", which regulates the appetite and so dictates the strength of the appetite.

While scientists are hailing the discovery of the fat gene as an important potential weapon in the struggle against obesity, one fears it may be taken entirely the wrong way – as a licence to let go. "I didn't want to eat that packet of chocolate biscuits you left in the cupboard – my fat gene made me do it!" Or, "My fat gene has gone to crazy this week. It just won't let me stop stuffing myself."

One wonders what other, undiscovered genes lie in wait. A "money gene" that literally won't allow some people to live within their means? A "travel gene" that forces people to go on expensive foreign holidays, when they'd rather stay home? The possibilities are endless – and disturbing.

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