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Genetics & Obesity

The American Society for Addiction Medicine held their annual conference in Toronto this past weekend. One of the attendees, Dr. Carolyn Ross spoke about the link between human genetics and obesity. In an interview with a local radio station, 680 News, Dr. Ross said that “70 per cent of obesity is genetic”.

Dr. Ross hopes that this linkage between obesity and genetics will ‘take away some of the stigma and shame associated with obesity’.

A related newspaper article appeared in this past Sunday’s Toronto Star. In this article, the link between anorexia nervosa and human genetics was discussed. In this article, the point was made that over the past 30 years, the rate of anorexia has remained unchanged while the rate of bulimia has risen sharply. The point being made here is that while bulimia may indeed be driven by a societal demand for thinness, anorexia may be driven by a genetic flaw.

While research into a genetic cause of anorexia (or bulimia, binge eating, etc) is only in it’s infancy, “results of the first genetic studies, released in the past five years, reveal that genetic vulnerability for anorexia nervosa lies on chromosome 1 of the 24 chromosomes that make up the human genome”.

So what do we take from this?

If Dr. Ross is correct and genetics has a huge impact on obesity, do we ignore the smaller role of our own behaviour? If you knew that you had inherited a genetic propensity towards obesity, do you give up trying to eat a healthy diet and engage in physical exercise? Do you wait for science to come up with a genetic cure?

While I agree with Dr. Ross that the social stigma attached to obesity is cruel and thoughtless ( if there is a genetic component to both obesity & cancer, why is it acceptable to mock the obese but not a cancer patient?), obese individuals still have to accept responsibility for their own health.

For every person who was born with a congenital leptin deficiency, there are thousands upon thousands of obese individuals who have a simple genetic predisposition towards obesity. A PREDISPOSITION.

Genetics is not Destiny.

Learn how to keep your body healthy, learn how to train your body to overcome cravings, eat well, exercise, and make the most with the genetic hand that you were dealt.

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9 thoughts on “Genetics & Obesity

  1. I like that you pointed out the biggest detail that so many people ignore when they read headlines that say genetics “causes” obesity. That detail being that genetics causes only a predisposition to being heavy.
    It’s hardly different than if alcoholism runs in your family. Unless you avoid the liquid goodness, you will more easily fall into that downward spiral. But stay away from it, and you’ll likely be ok.

    I like your blog. I wish I could click on those food pyramids at the top and enlarge them though :)

  2. DR

    Thanks for the love McBloggenstein.

    I am new to this and I appreciate your feedback. I am going to check out your site after I finish this.

    Images – try googling “food pyramid ethnic” and look at the images tab – lots to look at

  3. Rebel With a Fork

    The reason obesity seems to run in families is that they share the same eating habits.

    You take someone from Japan, bring them to America and start feeding them the typical diet – they get fat.

    We really need to get away from the blame and excuses and start eating better. Simple as that.

  4. I like your assessment of her studies more than the concepts the lurk around the studies.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a genetics study that wasn’t, somehow, self-fulfilling. Genetics studies often sound like common sense dressed in white lab coats, or, worse: they sound like a good excuse to continue, rather than change, patterns of behavior.

    Besides, if the goal is to “take away the stigma” then proving a genetic link seems a superficial, impersonal method of helping people cope with eating disorders. Moreover, a person with an eating disorder more likely doesn’t care much about logic or the science behind something like obesity.

    Overall, such a study sends a confusing message and sounds self-serving. Her study requires a translator, like you, to make practical, valuable sense out of it.

    I’d bet she hasn’t read your Truth #5.

  5. Mary-Jo

    The nature vs nurture argument is getting old. One doesn’t even need fancy testing to identify the ‘predisposition’ unless they’re adopted. If you know, you just do what you have to to offset the self-fulfilling prophecy. Simple as that. What IS helpful re: genetics is that a person who is hard-wired for obesity must realize that there might be a limit to attaining a certain weight or % body fat BY REASONABLE, SUSTAINABLE methods, but that shouldn’t AT ALL mean that the achievable sustainable weight, % fat isn’t within their health optimum — it’s more against what the media tells them (and us) what’s an ‘aesthetic’ weight or %fat

  6. Pingback: Weekly Links #3 « Shane Vs. Genetics

  7. JAREID

    Articles like this allow genetics to be a cop out for obese people. It provides an avenue for apathy and aceptance.

    One doctor’s opinion is not enough to support the claim that “70% of obesity is genetic,” especially when no research is referenced and when the same doctor says that anywhere between “40 to 70% of obesity is a result of genetics.” (See video) http://video.answers.com/the-reasons-obesity-is-becoming-more-prevalent-236984259

    A 30% swing is a significant variance and does not indicate proper research methods.

    I understand it is difficult to find blog topics every day but too many of your posts rely on results from small studies, unsupported research, or opinions from people looking for reaction.

    Because health, fitness and medicine is constantly developing and new research is always being published, it is easy to confuse people by jumping on to support every published study. Research the research, otherwise you’re just confusing them more.

  8. healthhabits

    As I said in the article:

    If Dr. Ross is correct and genetics has a huge impact on obesity, do we ignore the smaller role of our own behaviour?

    If you knew that you had inherited a genetic propensity towards obesity, do you give up trying to eat a healthy diet and engage in physical exercise? Do you wait for science to come up with a genetic cure?

    While I agree with Dr. Ross that the social stigma attached to obesity is cruel and thoughtless ( if there is a genetic component to both obesity & cancer, why is it acceptable to mock the obese but not a cancer patient?), obese individuals still have to accept responsibility for their own health.

    For every person who was born with a congenital leptin deficiency, there are thousands upon thousands of obese individuals who have a simple genetic predisposition towards obesity.

    A PREDISPOSITION.

    Genetics is not Destiny.

Comments are closed.