Obesity is Not in Your Genes

Obesity is Not in Your Genes
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Obesity Epidemic

The messages have been coming as thick and fast as an extra large shake. America is fat and getting fatter. Too many big portions are being served up with a side order of diabetes and heart disease, as the nation is eating itself to death.

The obesity epidemic has made Americans, well the super-sized ones, the big butt of jokes all over the world. But the US is by no means the only nation that is suffering with its collective waistline.

One of the principal reasons why it is such a prominent health concern is that some people do everything they can but blame themselves for their large proportions. Such misguided thinking blinds them to the many ways they can help themselves.

To be fair, over eating and poor self-control are not the only causes of obesity. For example a thyroid disorder can lead to weight gain as can some other medical conditions including genetic disorders. And so do some medications. However, generally speaking the main cause for the overwhelming majority of obese people is their greedy eating behavior.

Obesity is Not in Your Genes

The search for genes and gene variants that might be linked to obesity is a very active area of research and periodically throws up some in interesting results as a number of genes have now been located that may contribute to the medical condition. For example, researchers at Peninsula Medical School and Oxford University discovered that people with two copies of a “fat” version of a gene called FTO were at a 70% higher risk of obesity than those with none. These conclusions came from a study of about 40,000 people and were published in the journal Science in 2007. A simple google search on obesity and genes will throw up any number of similar studies.

But what is troubling about some of these studies is that they are interpreted as evidence that our genes have more of an impact on our weight than exercise or diet. While I have deep respect for the scientific method this is pure hokum.

Picture of an Obese Teenager (146kg/322lb)

I tend to dismiss any findings that lay most of the blame on our genes, and so should you. The simple truth is that obesity is down to self-control and personal choice. If your shirt buttons are straining at the leash and you haven’t seen your feet for years it is because you have lost control.

You can choose to be obese or choose to be normal. It’s completely down to you whether you take control of your life and sacrifice some of your guilty pleasures or whether you want to be lazy about it and remain fat. If you choose to guzzle down cakes, pizzas and junk food in vast quantities while sitting on your sofa watching TV for hours on end then the odds of your belly inflating are greatly increased. If you have no problem with that then fine, but whatever you do accept that it is you who are responsible for the size you are. Don’t put the blame elsewhere.

In a debate in the UK’s House of Lords in October 2011, Lord McColl of Dulwich said: It (obesity) is killing millions, it’s costing billions and the cure is free - eat less." To that I would add eat less of the bad stuff, more of the good things and exercise more. It really is not rocket science. If you are obese you made yourself that way, and therefore it’s down to you to undo the damage. Though I admit that can often be easier said than done.

We are Not a Slave to Our Genes

Being obese is as much a psychological problem as it is a physical one and this is something that needs to be understood more by public health bodies. People who tend to gorge themselves on extra large quantities of food do so because of mental and emotional issues not physical ones. And they need a lot of help, encouragement and support to wean them off of their destructive food habits.

What tends to get missed by a lot of people when so-called ‘fat genes’ are discovered is that they need to be triggered. Their presence does not automatically guarantee that the individual will be obese. It means they may have a genetic predisposition to obesity and should therefore be extra vigilant with the food they put inside themselves.

This might also explain why some people seem to put on more weight than others when they exercise the same and eat the same things as their friends.

Take Control

Obesity is not an easy problem to tackle. At an individual level it requires courage, patience and self-sacrifice and the understanding and help of those nearest to you.

Genetic research is undoubtedly useful. If people know they have ‘fat genes’ and are therefore at a greater risk than the general population of becoming obese, they can modify their behavior and eating habits accordingly. Some peoplem - because of their genes - just have to work that much harder than others to stay slim.

It is only by taking control of our own lives that we will be able to tip the scales back in a favorable direction.


  • Frayling, Timothy, et al. A Common Variant in the FTO Gene Is Associated with Body Mass Index and Predisposes to Childhood and Adult Obesity. Science 11 May 2007: Vol. 316 no. 5826 pp. 889-894

    “Obese People Should Eat Less” - BBC News website