Presented by Dr Dawn Harper, from Embarrassing Bodies, Fat Family Tree uses cutting edge genetics to decode the genes of an overweight family for whom all other attempts to shed the pounds have not worked. Discovering how the family’s genes have put them at risk of excessive weight gain is the first step to devising a diet to help them beat their genes. Based on the latest science, the programme’s “gene-busting” diet also promises fail safe diet tips that could help all of us lose weight.
The McConnon family from Stevenage have all spent their lives battling with their weight and failed time and time again to shed the pounds. Like lots of people they believe their family history of obesity could be down to their genes.
Mum Tina and daughters Lisa and Karen are all desperate to lose weight. Tina, who is a size 26 and weighs 15 stone 10 pounds, has lost both her own mother and her brother to weight related health problems and she’s afraid that she’s going to suffer the same fate. Elder daughter Lisa weighs the most: 22 stone and 4 pounds and is size 28. She’s desperate for a baby but has been turned down for fertility treatment due to her weight. Younger daughter Karen is a size 26 and weighs 20 stone, 13 pounds. Her biggest worry is that her own children are already starting to put on weight. They’ve already been teased at school for their size and Karen fears that, unless she can change, they could end up being obese as well.
Now, in Fat Family Tree, all three take a unique DNA test to find out if the genes they have inherited could help explain their weight problems. The test, devised with Cambridge University’s Dr Giles Yeo, isn’t looking for one ‘fat gene’; it’s looking for variations in more than 70 genes that can increase your risk of being fat in different ways. These genes influence how intensely you experience hunger, how effectively your brain detects the sensation of fullness when you’ve eaten, where in the body you’re likely to store fat, and your sense of taste – giving some people a genetic preference for sweet or fatty foods.
The McConnons have long suspected that their family history of weight problems had a genetic component – that it was harder for them to control their weight than for other people. Now the results of the DNA test reveal that they were right. They’ve all inherited risky hunger genes linked to overeating or excessive snacking. Alongside this, they’ve inherited risky taste genes including a gene linked to favouring the taste of fatty foods. Finally, the McConnons all have genes linked to storing fat around their stomach which makes them more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and heart problems.
Given their family history of weight related deaths, the presence of fat risk genes in the family leaves them all vulnerable. Fat Family Tree sends them to the obesity medicine unit at Imperial College London, for further tests. The results are shocking: Tina has high cholesterol and blood pressure, putting her at risk of a heart attack. But worse than that, the tests confirm that she has already developed type 2 diabetes. The results for Karen and Lisa aren’t much better. If they don’t lose weight, they too are likely to develop diabetes and potentially take 15 years off their life expectancy.
Dr Dawn believes that, although she can’t change the McConnons’ genes, she can change their weight and their future by identifying exactly how their diet and lifestyle clash with their genetic burden. Fat Family Tree’s team of experts now devise a unique, science-based, tailor-made diet designed to help the family beat their fat risk genes and lose weight successfully for the first time.
To help the McConnons overcome their taste for fatty food, Fat Family Tree reveals the dangers of hidden fat and the science behind a simple but failsafe way of helping everybody become better at dealing with the fat we eat. To help them beat their hunger genes, Dr Dawn involves them in an experiment to prove that liquid calories aren’t a good way of stopping you feeling hungry and shows them, and anyone who wants to lose weight, how changing the kind of carbs you eat could be the secret of feeling fuller longer.
Four months later, it’s time for the McConnons to be reunited with Dr Dawn. Have they stuck to the diet and managed to win their lifelong struggle with their weight? And, more importantly has this unique new science-based diet helped Tina reverse her type 2 diabetes diagnosis and all of them overcome the serious health problems that lie ahead.
The show airs from the 23rd of May 2013