Life is often unfair, at least so it seems. Some break their backs to earn little while others live in luxury on inherited wealth. Some have natural gifts for art and music while others practice for hours just to be lousy. Injustice—real and imagined—plagues us every day. No better example can be found than genetic factors that make obesity more likely in certain individuals. The reality of these influences might cause despondent resignation: why, after all, should an overweight person work to shed pounds when the result is already (excuse the expression!) baked into the cake? The fact is that genetic predisposition does pose a challenge to those pursuing vibrant health, but not an insurmountable one.
What Does Medical Science Say About Genetic Obesity?
In short, medicine defines obesity as a metabolic imbalance that is high in calories and lower on physical activity, resulting in the generation of adipose tissue. The prevalence of obesity today is often linked to the easy access to high-calorie foods, as well as to sedentary behaviors fostered by technology and automation. Even a casual observer would affirm these linkages, especially in developed countries. Indeed, the lucrative diet and fitness industries are evidence that multitudes believe in the basic concept that food should be restricted and exercise should be promoted to bring the public back to a healthy average body weight.
In the last few decades, however, scientists have focused on patterns: higher obesity rates among certain ethnicities and races; obesity continuing for generations within the same family; differing measures of weight gain among populations living the exact same lifestyle—soldiers, e.g. One watershed study of the body mass index (BMI) of twins reared separately, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1990, determined that genes had more to do with obesity than previously thought. Some researchers contend that certain genes that govern metabolism may possess a “thrifty” variant—one that directs metabolic function to hoard the energy from calories, releasing less during physical activity. Variants can exist in one gene or several.
Is There Any Hope?
If the theories connecting genes and corpulence are confirmed, is weight loss simply a pipe dream? Hardly. Many previously obese individuals can testify to safe and healthy weight loss. As the Centers for Disease Control suggests, a thrifty genotype could be passed down from a generation when food was scarce and survival uncertain. Human physiology adapted to this state of affairs and did not change when food became plentiful and work became desk-bound. As a result, the environmental facts of cheap food available 24/7 and little physical exertion at work or at home work synergistically with a genetic make-up prone to overweight. Changing the variables we can control can offset the one we can not:
- A healthy regimen of constantly alternating exercises prescribed by a physician
- A diet rich in nutrients that will preserve BMI but not add fat
- An increase in routine activity – e.g. parking far away and walking to the workplace; climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator; and standing up as much as the job will allow.
- Intermittent fasting, if medically advisable
Genes Are Not Chains
Genes are strong influencers, to be sure, but they are not beyond defiance. Making sound health the first goal, those who suffer from obesity can push back against genetic predisposition. Before doing so, at any rate, they should submit to a thorough physical examination to avoid unanticipated complications.