According to researchers, choices made by couples in middle age – including those linked to diet and exercise – have a much greater impact on them than the lifestyle each shared during their childhood.

"The environment you share with your partner in adulthood also influences whether you become obese and this is more important than your upbringing," said lead researcher Chris Haley from the University of Edinburgh in Britain.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS Genetics, reinforce the message that lifestyle changes in adulthood can have a significant impact in tackling obesity. The research helped scientists to better understand links between obesity, genetics and lifestyle habits.

The team analysed data provided by 20,000 people. They compared people's family genetics and home environments in childhood and adulthood and related these to measures linked to health and obesity.

"The findings also show that even people who come from families with a history of obesity can reduce their risk by changing their lifestyle habits," Haley added.

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