Every second German is overweight. And every fifth German exceeds his normal weight by even more than 20%; this is what the medical profession refers to as pathological obesity or adiposity. Obesity is the cause of many sequellae such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer. So far little has been known about the factors supporting overweight. Is it genetic defects which impair the quick combustion of nutrients or do only those suffer from obesity who eat too much and too fatty a diet and don't get sufficient exercise to boot? That, in any case, the cause is not genes alone is what Trier scientist Dr. Petra Platte found out in a study funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). She observed that genetic predisposition played indeed a major role in the development of obesity. But, she says, environmental factors such as eating habits and the extent and frequency of physical exercise are equally important.
Researchers had already shown that individual changes in the mouse genome can cause obesity. This discovery suggests that also in humans such mutations might be responsible for the disease. So far the search for a trigger gene has not yielded any results. Now scientists assume that in humans there has to be more than a genetic defect to cause obesity. Different fat distribution patterns ("apple shape" versus "pear shape") in humans must have different genetic causes.
Doing research for her habilitation thesis (research work prerequisite to obtaining a professorship) at the University of Trier, Petra Platte began to look for suitable subjects and finally found them at the east coast of the USA. This is where the Old Order Amish People live, a strictly conservative religious community whose ancestors in the 18th century immigrated from Germany and Switzerland mainly to the US states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Even today the Amish are still cultivating a religious, ascetic lifestyle and strictly reject modern technology.