"Hunger hormone" study sheds light on obesity

(CBS News) For a while, experts have known there's a genetic component to obesity -- but a new study helps explain how it works.

The research finds people with the "obesity gene" are likely to have more of a hormone that makes them hungry. It's called the "hunger hormone," or ghrelin, and could change how doctors treat overweight patients.

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This research is really important at a time when, according to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, $147 billion is spent annually on medical costs and 2.8 million people die each year of obesity.

Doctors have known about the hormone for about 12 years, but what's important is that the research links the common variation in the gene with ghrelin.

"There are a couple of ways that it could help us," explained Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the weight control program at New York Presbyterian, Weill-Cornell Medical Center, on "CBS This Morning." "Number one when we do research studies, we look at everybody as the same. We know one in six people have this gene. These people may respond differently to the treatment. It's already been shown that people with this gene respond differently to bariatric surgery. Now we may know why."

The research will allow doctors to predict if people will respond positively to certain weight-loss treatments. Also, people who have the gene struggle more with dieting and could be better candidates for surgery.

Additionally, Aronne said some people with increased levels of this hormone benefit from eating a high protein diet.

While testing for this hormone is not readily available, Aronne said that he believes in the next few years doctors will be able to test patients easily and treat them accordingly.

For Dr. Louis Aronne's full interview, watch the video in the player above.