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Study Finds Fat Type That can Protect Against Weight Gain and Diabetes

A new study may shed light on why some people can eat excessive amounts of food and not gain weight or develop type 2 diabetes, while others// are more likely to develop obesity and this most common form of diabetes on any diet. The study, which used two strains of mice with differing tendencies to gain weight and develop diabetes on a high-fat diet, identified genetic and cellular mechanisms that may prevent certain mice on a calorie-dense diet from gaining weight and developing metabolic syndrome.

“Although this study was done with mice, it points out new mechanisms that may underlie the ability of genetically different mice -- and perhaps genetically different people -- to not gain much weight on high caloric diets,” said lead investigator C. Ronald Kahn, M.D., an internationally recognized researcher who is Head of Joslin’s Section on Obesity and Hormone Action and the Mary K. Iacocca Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

It has long been known that people significantly differ in their tendency to gain weight and develop metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions including hypertension, abdominal obesity, high triglycerides and glucose intolerance that can lead to type 2 diabetes. More than 60 million Americans either are obese or have metabolic syndrome, putting them at risk for type 2 diabetes and its frequent complications, including cardiovascular disease and other serious conditions. Currently 21 million Americans have diabetes and approximately one-third of them do not even know they have the disease. Formerly known as adult-onset diabetes, type 2 diabetes is occurring more frequently in young adults and even children.

Previous studies at Joslin and elsewhere have uncovered the differing functions of the two types of body fat–white and brown. White fat, the more familiar form of fat that accumulates in the abdomen, thighs, buttocks and under the skin, stores energy for future needs, whereas brown fat or brown
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