The new year is just around the corner, and no doubt many Americans who gained a few too many pounds during the holiday season - and possibly more than that in the months before - are resolving to drop some weight.
Perennial dieters tend to have their favorite weight-loss gimmicks that changes with each season. The cabbage soup diet, the baby food diet, the ice cream cleanse, not to be confused with the ice diet. These are just a handful of fads that have come and gone after dieters either came to their senses or hopped on the next big thing.
Writing in the January issue of the journal Obesity, researchers look ahead to the next five years when the perfect diet will be available to anyone, and all you need to do to get started is spit. (And no, it's not the spitting diet.)
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The genetic data of a person looking to achieve a healthy weight could give nutritionists, physiologists and other health experts the information they need to create customized diet and fitness programs. A patient would simply need to provide a saliva sample for DNA analysis.
Genes aren't the only data that experts would take into account. Other factors,such as stress levels or environment could inform recommendations regarding nutrition or exercise plans. Fitness trackers, an increasingly popular and sophisticated category of consumer device, could also be enlisted by scientists to gather data.
So what is stopping health care professionals from doing all of this now? The technology for gene sequencing and activity monitoring is already out there.
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What's missing, the researchers explain, is the analytical tools needed to make the connections between various factors such as genes and behavior on the one hand and health outcomes on the other.
Several studies this year, for example, identified a number of genes linked to obesity. In October, research funded the National Institutes of Health (NIH) singled out a genetic variation for brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), which produces a protein that regulates appetite. In August, a University of British Columbia study linked a gene to fat accumulation that scientists believe may be an underlying cause of obesity. In July, a gene responsible for obesity and diabetes during the aging process was identified by Duke University researchers.
Often, media are quick to dub the new discoveries "the obesity gene," but the reality is more complicated than that as those genetic explanations may old hold for a small subset of the population. Figuring out the genetic factors is also only half the battle. Determining how genetic predisposition fits with other variables like behavior and diet in an individual's overall health picture still requires further study to build an effective custom weight-loss program.
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Weight loss isn't simply about aesthetics, of course. Obesity is a major health-care concern in the United States, and has been linked to increased risk of a number of conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and some form of cancer. Worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that obesity costs $2 trillion a year.
A custom-designed weight-loss program can't guarantee anyone will lose weight; ultimately the responsibility for following through belongs to each individual. But at least a bespoke diet can show the path to a healthier life without the gimmicks blocking the way.