RIVM logo, National Institute for Public Healthe and the Enviroment. Minsty of Health, Welfare and Sport

Genetic contribution to obesity: a literature review

De bijdrage van genetische factoren aan obesitas: een literatuurstudie


The risk of obesity is for a considerable part genetically determined. Which specific genetic factors are involved is yet unknown. Therefore, the use of genetic information for obesity prevention or treatment is currently unjustifiable. This is the conclusion of a literature review on the genetics of obesity conducted by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in order of the Dutch Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sports. This study showed that about 40% of the total variation in body weight between individuals (expressed as the body mass index, BMI: weight / height-2) can be explained by genetic differences. Moreover, due to their genetic profile, individuals react differently on changes in energy intake and expenditure. For one out of ten cases with severe early onset obesity a rare mutation in a single gene is known. This is the case for at most 2.5% of the less extreme forms of obesity. A lot of research has been carried out on gene variants that occur frequently in the population. For five of these gene variants there is convincing evidence supporting their involvement in determining BMI or obesity risk. They may explain 10% of the cases with overweight and 20% of the cases with obesity. However, genetic variation between individuals is more complex than previously thought. Therefore, the contribution of genetic factors to the onset of obesity is expected to be larger than currently known. This justifies current and future research in this area.

Home / Documents and publications / Genetic contribution to obesity: a literature review

RIVM Committed to health and sustainability