In the US, 42.5% of Americans over 20 are obese. As we develop more processed and fatty foods, and as our lifestyles stop accomodating exercise and other physical activity, this has contributed to the world’s issue with weight.
However, there are those who believe that obesity isn’t influenced by the environment, but instead, is a genetically inherited trait.
So what’s the actual truth? Is it possible that both sides of the story are right?
Keep reading to find out all about genetics and obesity.
What Is Obesity?
First of all, what is obesity anyway? We all know it describes someone who is heavily overweight, but by how much?
The CDC describes obesity as a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 or higher. BMI is calculated by taking your weight and dividing it by your height, squared. For many people, a weight of 300 pounds or more is considered obese.
There’s also morbid obesity, which is a step above obesity. You’re considered morbidly obese if you’re over 100 pounds above your ideal weight, have a BMI of 40 or higher, or if you have a BMI of 35 or higher, plus you have a comorbid condition like diabetes.
Those who are morbidly obese usually have trouble doing normal everyday activities, such as walking and breathing.
The Environment and Obesity
On a very basic level, if you eat more calories than you can burn, then you’ll gain weight. Vice versa, if you eat fewer calories than you can burn, you’ll end up losing weight.
By that logic, those who are obese eat more calories than they can consume. So it’s reasonable to think that the environment is the sole factor causing obesity. This is especially true when you consider how handy it is to grab fast foods and junk foods, which are packed with empty calories.
However, as you might’ve guessed, there’s more to obesity than just environmental factors. Humans are complicated organisms, after all!
The Relationship Between Genetics and Obesity
Some of you might’ve been wondering: is obesity genetic? The short answer is “yes”.
But before you go blaming genes as the sole reason why people become obese, let’s delve into obesity and genetics research so you can understand the mechanisms for obesity better.
The first thing you should understand is that yes, there’s a link between genetics and obesity. However, scientists haven’t found a direct link, and obesity is not hereditary. This means that there’s no single gene that’s turned on/off for certain people that either make them obese or not.
Here are some things that are genetic that may influence how likely a person might become obese.
Research has found that there’s a gene that controls our satiety, or how full we feel: MC4R. If this gene is working properly, then after you’ve eaten a moderate amount, it switches on and tells us we’re full. In turn, we stop eating and limit our caloric intake.
Studies have shown that there are as many as 300 mutations of the MC4R gene, which can cause people to not feel satiated normally. This might mean they feel fuller later on, or not at all. As a result, they’ll most likely overeat, which will cause weight gain.
Around 6% of children with severe obesity have a mutation in this gene, which suggests that MC4R plays a huge part in obesity.
What’s interesting to note is on the opposite spectrum, 6% of the population’s MC4R gene is always turned on. This can explain why some people are naturally thinner.
When we first started out as a species, food was much harder to come by. Those with “thrifty” genes survived, as they helped people’s bodies store more fat.
Nowadays, food is readily available for most people, especially in first-world countries. There’s no longer a need to store excess fat so efficiently, which can cause some of us to gain and retain weight more than others.
How to Battle Your Genetics
Just because you might have a mutated MC4R gene and/or “thrifty” genes doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll become overweight or obese. There are several ways to still be healthy!
First of all, make sure you’re eating wholesome foods and in the right quantities for you specifically. You can try something like the DNA diet (here’s how it works), or just simply swap out junk food for leafy greens and fruits instead.
It’s also been found that eating several smaller meals throughout the day is better than eating 2 or 3 heavier ones. If you’d like to stick with the latter routine, try cutting down your meal sizes and having small snacks throughout the day instead.
In addition, you should exercise regularly. Not only can this help your cardiovascular health and keep you fit, but it can also help to burn off excess calories so it’s harder to gain weight. Plus, it’ll improve your moods, as you’ll release endorphins!
Genetics and Obesity Go Hand-in-Hand
As you can see, genetics and obesity go hand-in-hand. While you might be genetically predisposed to being obese, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be. In fact, you might not even become overweight!
The most important thing is that you eat healthy, eat the right portions of food, and also get plenty of exercise. When you take good care of your body, a healthier weight will naturally follow.
And if you find it hard to get to an acceptable weight, it might be worth speaking to your doctor about. They might order some tests to see if there are additional underlying issues making weight loss difficult, such as thyroid disorders.
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