'Couch Potatoes' May Have Genetic Disorder

POSTED: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 - 10:23am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 10:59pm

In a basement lab at UNC Charlotte, Dr. Tim Lightfoot is finding out the science behind this simple question: Can you be born a couch potato?

The answer, in study after study, a resounding yes. "What we're pursuing now, is what are the things that can make you a couch potato or not," Dr. Tim Lightfoot, a kinesiology professor, said.

He and other researchers here are identifying the genetic factors that regulate daily physical activity. Because after all, "We all know people who can't get up off the couch and we also know people who don't want to sit down," Dr. Lightfoot said.

Example A -- Mary Ann Mitchener, a pastor who rarely sits still. "I don't even really go to movies that, maybe once or twice a year. It is too much sitting and not enough activity," Mitchener said. She does stop for devotional time ... but after that, "Any free time I have, I want to be outside." The daughter of a still active 83 year-old mother, she comes by it honest, but isn't sure what led to what.

"I don't know how much of genetics it is and how much environment and how much role modeling," Mitchener said. If Mitchener is the non-couch potato, then radio personality Yankee Pete is her opposite.

"Once I've parked myself here, I really don't want to get up," Yankee Pete said. "Yeah, it takes a while to get going, as far as exercise does it really look like I exercise?" Jokes aside, Pete's not looking for an excuse. In fact, he doesn't buy this dna argument one bit.

"It wasn't heredity for me at all. As a matter of fact, I used to be relatively thin until I got out on my own and had some freedom and got to just sit back and enjoy life on the couch," Yankee Pete said. Dr. Lightfoot knows there are skeptics, but he continues searching for even more proof.

"We've got a fairly complete genome map at this point, so we have started the process of looking at some specific genes," Dr. Lightfoot said. What will come from that?

"It may be a treatment. We don't know that," he added. Whatever it ends up being, "We're interested in getting people active," Dr. Lightfoot said. The results found here -- are about a lot more than just putting a label on lazy.

"Activity is probably the cheapest medicine," Dr. Lightfoot said.