Do we really need an obesity risk test?

obese coupleWe’re all at risk.

The headline said “Coming Soon: A test to gauge your obesity risk?”  I was immediately intrigued. What’s the scoop?

It helps to notice that the headline ends with a question mark.  In other words, such a test may not be coming soon at all.  And even if it does come, the story suggests any such test won’t solve the problem of obesity.

The researchers collected diet, exercise, blood pressure and BMI data from 2300 subjects.  They also collected urine samples, and analyzed them for a variety of metabolites produced by gut microbes.  Different types of diets are linked to different microbe populations, so a meat-heavy diet would produce different metabolites compared to a plant-centric diet.  The researchers compared those metabolites to BMI, blood pressure and food choices.  They found 9 particular metabolites that were linked to obesity, suggesting that it might be possible to create an obesity-metabolite profile, and measure a person’s urine to assess their obesity risk.

Well, some of the obesity risk.  One of the study co-authors, Jeremy Nicholson, clarified that in fact, the study suggests gut microbes can only explain 5-6% of obesity risk.  Not a huge factor, considering that there’s been a lot of publicity lately touting the connection between gut microbes and obesity.  After reading some of those reports, it would be easy to conclude that changing gut microbes was the ultimate solution to obesity.  Maybe not so much.

But at least gut microbes have some influence.  According to Nicholson, a person’s genes have only a minuscule effect on obesity, with just over 1% of obesity risk explained by genes.  So don’t blame your genes.

Or maybe blame human genes in general.  We’re all built to store calories.  Unfortunately, our environment is built to supply plenty of calories in readily-available and easily digested form.  A visual representation of what contributes to obesity might look like this:


gut microbes

lack of physical activity


We don’t really need a metabolic test to tell us that poor food choices, excess calories and a sedentary lifestyle create a high risk for obesity.

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