This NY Times headline really grabbed our attention: “Overweight? Maybe you really can blame your genes.”
It appears at a glance this article is offering your genes as an excuse for your extra weight.
However, the article really doesn’t say that genes are entirely responsible for an individual’s behaviors – or, that no matter what you do you cannot achieve a healthy weight.
The article does share attempts by scientists to locate a rare mutant gene that acts in the brain and controls metabolism. It mentions rats with a tendency to gain weight. By studying why these “mutant mice” get fat – even if they eat normally—the researchers hope to use their findings to develop treatments for obesity.
Sorry to burst any balloons, but this is very preliminary work.
If your parents are overweight, are you doomed to obesity? No.
And yes, there are some things that you inherit that you cannot change – things like eye color or your chromosomal makeup. Some of us are born with a tendency to gather fat around your waist (the proverbial apple shape) or around your hips (think pear). Abdominal obesity is associated with higher risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, while a “hippy” shape may be protective.
These risk factors are hard-coded into your DNA. Researchers have also found that some people have a “thrifty” gene that might be influencing the epidemic of obesity. Those who can survive famines by having a stronger drive to overeat, to favor sitting still over being active, and not burning off fat as fuel would be more likely to survive a famine.
Yes, there are a few chromosomal abnormalities which cause obesity. (Click here for a scientific paper that describes them.)
Other factors that can spark weight gain: inactivity, poor sleep, antidepressants, steroids, diabetes medications and beta-blockers.
But I believe it’s the environment that is the trigger shooting the gun—the gun that is shooting too many of us in the foot.
Statistics show that we gorge on a massive excess of calories. Meanwhile we Americans are a very sedentary society.
Although the FDA’s Nutrition Facts Label details the Daily Value for major nutrients based on an average intake of 2,000 calories, the average American gobbles some 3,800 calories a day! One in four Americans eats fast food daily. In fact, restaurant food accounts for much of the excess calories consumed.
What we’re eating could certainly be part of the genetic trigger that’s influencing the increase in obesity. Refined grains pack a wallop. But so too do all the added sugars that range from white table sugar to high fructose corn syrup, but also include other nutritive sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and even fruit concentrates. It’s sweet insanity, folks.
So, what can you change? You can change a lot!
You can change what you eat, when you eat it, and how much you eat. You can change how active you are, how many activities you participate in, when you get active, and what activities you choose to do.
Your weight is just a number on the scale. The numbers that greatly influence your health, include blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.