Those who simply cannot resist pulling into that drive-through or that slice of cake after an evening meal may have their DNA to blame for craving fast food and for having a high calorie diet.

Those previously simply considered to have low self-control now have scientific evidence that it is not their fault that they cannot resist a tasty treat as it is hardwired within their genes according to new research.

Study leader Dr Tony Goldstone, from the Imperial College London and colleagues have identified two genetic variants that influence whether we opt for high-calorie or low-calorie foods – a finding they say could result in more personalised treatment for obesity.

Diets high in fat and sugar are a major cause of obesity, when a person consumes more calories than they burn, this can lead to weight gain. The best strategy for weight loss is usually a balanced diet coupled with physical activity, but for some this is easier said than done.


For their study Dr Goldstone and colleagues set out to determine whether a person’s food choice may be influenced by certain genetic variants.

For the study the team conducted DNA genotyping on 45 white European adults aged 19-55 in an effort to identify the presence of variants near two genes which have been associated with obesity predisposition and food cravings.

The volunteers were asked to look at photographs of high and low calorie foods and then rate how appealing they were, while researchers used a functional magnetic resonance imaging to analyse their brain activity.

Results revealed that volunteer who possessed a variant near the FTO gene, which is associated with obesity disposition, rated the high calorie foods as more appealing showed greater activity in an area of the brain known as the orbitofrontal cortex.

This is one of the most interesting parts of the brain when it comes to food as it is where the rewards value of taste is represented, by releasing dopamine for certain tastes, making it feel good to eat certain foods and giving them that ‘moreish’ quality.

The findings are particularly important because they suggest a true genetic influence behind obesity in some individuals.

Dr Goldstone explained: “It means they may experience more cravings than the average person when presented with high-calorie foods – that is, those high in fat and/or sugar – leading them to eat more of these foods.”


These finding may mean there is more potential for individualised obesity treatments, one of which they suggest could involve using gut hormones that target dopamine cells in the brain to alter the hormone’s influence on cravings for high-calorie foods.

Commenting on the study Leah Wingham of The Obesity Society said: “These findings help us better understand the biological basis of behaviours that may predispose some people to overeating high-calorie foods, hence obesity.

“It could help us better target treatments for obesity so particular people get the most effective treatment, as individualised approaches to obesity are necessary.”