Is it your fault if you can’t find a pair of jeans that zip and button?
There is no denying that genetics can be the reason we need to buy “husky” jeans as a child and continue to shop in the “big and tall” stores as we grow. Are we totally at the mercy of our genes? The good news is we are not.
Our genes dictate where we store fat, our propensity for becoming fat, and even our very behaviors and preferences (including the kinds of food we prefer and pursuing a sedentary lifestyle) that result in our getting fat in an environment where food is plenty and the need for physical activity is practically non-existent.
There is much more to learn, and the complexity of weight and genetics and our modern environment continues to challenge what we thought we knew.
Here is what we are learning about body weight and genetics.
- Research indicates that 40-70% of overweight individuals can attribute fatness to genetics.1
- Wait! Before you decide it’s your overweight parents’ fault you should know this. It’s not the genes that directly make us fat except in very rare cases. Gene influence the likelihood of weight gain in combination with an environment that supports eating calories in excess and/or limiting physical activity.1
- In the last decade or so, research has expanded and we’re learning there are multiple genes associated with susceptibility to becoming overweight or obesity. We are learning that even the various genes can interact with one another to further influence vulnerability.2
- The more we study about genetics and obesity, the more we discover we have yet to learn. The relationship is complex and research only reveals more complexity. Research suggests that genetics explains more than the number on the bathroom scale. Genes can be why some engage in specific weight-related behaviors.3 This includes things such as food preferences, dietary patterns and even exercise behaviors. They may all likely be determined, in part, by genetics.
- Now for a myth buster. If you were a slim child and a slim young adult, can genes kick in later to make you a fat, middle-aged adult? Nope! Adults who experience weight gain in their middle years, it seems, cannot blame it on genes. Genetics seems to affect susceptibility to overweight, but not so in playing a role in the common weight gain that many middle-aged adults experience.4
People who are members of families with any of the hundreds of identified fat genes are at an increased risk for obesity. Increased risk isn’t the same as a sure thing.
Regardless of your genes it’s possible to prevent obesity genes from expressing themselves. It’s not automatic or even easy, but it can be done when approached as a skill that can be learned, and the more one practices the skill.
You can’t pick your genes, but you can learn to manage your genes so that you can fit into your jeans!
1 Herrera BM, Keildson S, Lindgren CM. Genetics and epigenetics of obesity. Maturitas. 2011 May;69(1):41-9. Epub 2011 Apr 3.
2 Rankinen T, Zuberi A, Chagnon YC, et al. The human obesity gene map: the 2005 update. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2006 Apr;14(4):529-644.
3de Krom M, Bauer F, Collier D, Adan RA, la Fleur SE. Genetic variation and effects on human eating behavior. Annu Rev Nutr. 2009;29:283-304.
4Coady SA, Jaquish CE, Fabsitz RR, Larson MG, Cupples LA, Myers RH. Genetic variability of adult body mass index: a longitudinal assessment in framingham families. Obes Res. 2002 Jul;10(7):675-81.