A gene that contributes to obesity has been identified for the first time, promising to explain why some people easily put on weight while others with similar lifestyles stay slim.

People who inherit one version of the gene rather than another are 70 percent more likely to be obese, British scientists have discovered. One in six people has the most vulnerable genetic make-up and weighs an average 3 kilograms more than those with the lowest risk. They also have 15 percent more body fat.

The findings provide the first robust link between a common gene and obesity, and could eventually lead to new ways of tackling one of the most significant causes of ill health in the developed world. One in four British adults is classified as obese, and half of men and a third of women are overweight.

Obesity is a main cause of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. An adviser to the Government’s health spending watchdog said recently that the condition was a bigger national danger than smoking, alcohol or poverty.

If the biological function of the gene, known as FTO, can now be understood, it could become possible to design drugs that manipulate it to help people to control their weight.

“Even though we have yet to fully understand the role played by the FTO gene in obesity, our findings are a source of great excitement,” Mark McCarthy, of the University of Oxford, who led the research, said.

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