The Genetics of Body Fat Percentage

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The Genetics of Body Fat Percentage

Date of Content: March 16, 2024
Written by: Avanthika Nityanand
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD


What is Body Fat Percentage?

Body fat percentage refers to the proportion of fat tissue relative to the total body weight. It is a crucial measure of overall health and fitness as it indicates the amount of fat mass compared to lean mass, which includes muscles, bones, organs, and water content. Unlike total body weight or body mass index (BMI), which only provides general estimates of body composition, body fat percentage offers a more accurate assessment of one’s health status.

Body fat percentage

What is a Healthy Body Fat Percentage

A healthy body fat percentage varies depending on age, sex, and fitness level. A healthy body fat percentage for men is around 10-20%, while for women, the range is around 20-30%. Athletes and individuals with higher muscle mass may have slightly lower body fat percentages. However, excessively low body fat percentages can pose health risks, including hormonal imbalances and impaired immune function.

Genetics of Body Fat


The fat mass and obesity-associated (FTO) gene is located on chromosome 16 in humans. It plays a crucial role in regulating body weight and metabolism. Several ariations in the FTO gene have been associated with obesity and increased BMI. This gene is involved in the control of food intake, energy expenditure, and adipose tissue development. Certain genetic variations within the FTO gene have been linked to higher body weight, increased fat mass, and a higher risk of obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

A 2007 genome-wide search found that a common variant of the FTO gene (SNP rs9939609) influenced BMI, predisposing individuals to diabetes. This association was confirmed across 13 cohorts comprising 38,759 participants. Adults homozygous for the risk allele weighed approximately 3 kilograms more. It had a 1.67-fold higher likelihood of obesity compared to non-carriers. This effect was evident from age seven and led to a specific increase in fat mass. A 2021 study found another FTO SNP, rs11642015, to be specifically associated with body fat percentage. 


The PLA2G6 gene, also known as Phospholipase A2 Group VI, encodes an enzyme called calcium-independent phospholipase A2 beta (iPLA2β). This enzyme belongs to the phospholipase A2 family. It plays a crucial role in cellular lipid metabolism by catalyzing the hydrolysis of phospholipids to release fatty acids and lysophospholipids.

According to a 2016 GWAS, the risk allele of the rs3761445 SNP of the PLAG6 gene can increase your susceptibility to accumulate body fat


The SEC16B gene encodes a protein that plays a role in the assembly and organization of specific vesicles responsible for transporting newly synthesized proteins from a cell organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum, to another organelle called the Golgi apparatus, for further processing and sorting. Variations in the SEC16B gene have been associated with obesity and BMI, implying its involvement in regulating energy metabolism and adiposity. 

The risk allele of rs543874 in the SEC16B gene has been found to be associated with an increased susceptibility to higher body fat percentage.

Non-genetic Factors Influencing Body Fat Percentage

Non-genetic factors play a substantial role in determining body fat percentage, influencing how fat is acquired, stored and distributed throughout the body. 

These factors encompass various aspects of lifestyle, dietary habits, physical activity levels, and environmental influences that collectively impact body composition. Here’s an expanded discussion on the non-genetic factors influencing body fat percentage:

Dietary Habits: The type and quantity of food consumed can significantly influence body fat percentage. Diets high in processed foods, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats contribute to excess calorie intake, leading to fat accumulation. Conversely, diets rich in whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats support weight management and reduce body fat percentage. Mindful eating practices such as portion control and avoiding emotional eating play a crucial role in maintaining healthy body composition.

You may also like: Walkthrough of the LifeDNA Nutrition Report

Physical Activity Levels: Regular physical activity and exercise are vital for managing body fat percentage. Aerobic exercises such as jogging, cycling, and swimming increase calorie expenditure, promoting fat loss and improving overall cardiovascular health. Strength training exercises, including weightlifting and resistance training, build lean muscle mass, which boosts metabolism and enhances fat-burning capacity, even at rest. Incorporating aerobic and strength training exercises into a fitness routine yields optimal results in reducing body fat percentage.

Also read: Walkthrough of the LifeDNA Fitness Report

Lifestyle Choices: Lifestyle factors, such as sleep quality, stress management, and substance use, influence body fat accumulation. Inadequate sleep disrupts hormonal balance, leading to increased appetite, cravings for high-calorie foods, and weight gain. Chronic stress triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone associated with fat storage, particularly around the abdominal area. Limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding smoking also support efforts to reduce body fat percentage and improve overall health.

Hydration Status: Adequate hydration is essential for maintaining optimal metabolic function and supporting fat metabolism. Water is crucial in various physiological processes, including digestion, nutrient absorption, and waste elimination. Staying hydrated helps regulate appetite, prevents overeating, and supports efficient fat breakdown and utilization. Opting for water or low-calorie beverages over sugary drinks can aid in weight management and reducing body fat percentage.

Also read: A Walkthrough of the Wellness Report

Environmental Factors: Environmental factors, such as socioeconomic status, access to healthy food options, and cultural influences, can impact dietary choices and physical activity levels and influence body fat percentage. Individuals with limited access to nutritious foods may rely on inexpensive, calorie-dense options, increasing the risk of weight gain and obesity. Moreover, cultural norms and societal pressures regarding body image and food preferences may influence eating behaviors and perceptions of ideal body weight, affecting body fat percentage.

Understanding the genetic risk factors and addressing these non-genetic factors through lifestyle modifications, including adopting a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, managing stress effectively, prioritizing adequate sleep, and maintaining hydration, is vital to achieving and maintaining a healthy body fat percentage.

How to Calculate Body Fat Percentage

Body fat percentage can be determined using various methods, including:

  • Skinfold Calipers: This method involves measuring skinfold thickness at specific sites on the body and using those measurements to estimate body fat percentage.
  • Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA): BIA devices measure the resistance of body tissues to electrical currents, providing estimates of body fat percentage based on conductivity.
  • Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA): DEXA scans utilize X-rays to measure bone density, lean mass, and fat mass, offering highly accurate assessments for body composition.
  • Hydrostatic Weighing: This method, also known as underwater weighing, determines body density by measuring buoyancy in water, from which body fat percentage is calculated.

How to Reduce Body Fat Percentage Naturally

Reducing higher than optimal body fat percentage involves adopting a balanced approach that includes dietary modifications, regular exercise, and lifestyle changes. A combination of aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility exercises helps burn calories, build lean muscle mass, and improve metabolic rate. Also, focusing on a nutrient-dense diet rich in whole foods, controlling portion sizes, and staying hydrated supports healthy weight loss and fat reduction.

What Is Ideal Body Fat Percentage to See the Abs

Lower body fat percentages in the abdominal region lead to visible abs. For men, defined abs are usually visible at around 10-12% body fat, while for women, they become visible at approximately 16-20%. 

However, genetics, muscle definition, and individual body composition also influence the visibility of abs. It’s essential to prioritize overall health and fitness rather than solely focusing on achieving a specific body fat percentage for aesthetic goals.

LifeDNA Fitness Report

The LifeDNA Fitness Report offers a personalized analysis of how genetic factors can shape an individual’s fitness journey. 

The report provides insights into nearly 30 traits utilizing cutting-edge genomic science, spanning aspects such as muscle composition, metabolism, injury risk, and exercise response. 

This information can empower you to tailor your fitness routine and nutritional plans to sync with your genetic makeup.

The LifeDNA Fitness report covers Body Fat Percentage. Get your report here.

Body fat percentage



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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

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