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Alcoholism family history and obesity risk

People at higher risk for alcoholism might also face higher risks of becoming obese.

Alcoholism family history and obesity risk

People at higher risk for alcoholism might also face higher risks of becoming obese.

Obesity in the general population is rising steadily and obese people - those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more - have an elevated risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.

Researchers analysed data from two large U.S. alcoholism surveys conducted in 1991-1992 and 2001-2002. According to the results of the more recent survey, women with a family history of alcoholism were 49 percent more likely to be obese than other women. In addition, that risk seems to be growing. In their analysis of the data from both surveys, the researchers found that the link between family history of alcoholism and obesity has grown stronger over time. This may be due to the increasing availability of foods that interact with the same brain areas as alcohol. It was noted that men with a family history of alcoholism were also more likely to be obese, but this association was not as strong in men as in women. Ironically, people with alcoholism tended not to be obese but were malnourished or at least under-nourished because many replaced their food intake with alcohol. Other variables, like smoking, alcohol intake, and demographic factors like age and education levels did not seem to explain the association between alcoholism risk and obesity.

One explanation for the higher risk of obesity among people with a family history of alcoholism could be that some people substitute one addiction for another. For example, after a person sees a close relative with a drinking problem, they may avoid alcohol but consume high-calorie foods that stimulate the same reward centers in the brain that react to alcohol. The researchers also speculates that changes in the food we eat and the availability of more high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods rich in sugar, salt and fat contribute to this. The availability of more foods that interact with the same brain areas as addictive drugs pose an elevated risk for those genetically predisposed to addiction because of the effects of those foods on the reward centers in the brain.

Studies on addiction often look at cross-heritability, which addresses the question of whether the predisposition to one condition also might contribute to other conditions. For example, alcoholism and drug abuse are cross-heritable. This new study demonstrates a cross-heritability between alcoholism and obesity, but it also says that some of the risks must be a function of the environment (food we eat) and not genes alone.
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