Rethinking obesity: More about genes than willpower

| | November 2, 2016

[A] nationally representative survey of 1,509 NORC at the University of Chicago, an independent research institution...found that concerns about obesity have risen.


Researchers say obesity, which affects one-third of Americans, is caused by interactions between the environment and genetics and has little to do with sloth or gluttony. There are hundreds of genes that can predispose to obesity in an environment where food is cheap and portions are abundant.

Ninety-four percent of the survey participants who were obese had tried to lose weight with diet or exercise, to no avail. Yet three-quarters of survey participants said obesity resulted from a lack of willpower. The best treatment, they said, is to take responsibility for yourself, go on a diet and exercise.

Obesity specialists said the survey painted an alarming picture. They said the findings went against evidence about the science behind the disease, and showed that outdated notions about obesity persisted, to the detriment of those affected.


It’s not that diet and exercise are useless, noted Penny Gordon-Larsen, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina...But lifestyle advice also depends on whether the issue is prevention or treatment and, if treatment, whether the person is extremely obese, obese or just overweight, she said.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: Americans Blame Obesity on Willpower, Despite Evidence It’s Genetic

  • Steven Rogers

    Genetics may provide a partial explanation, but it’s hard to see how the dramatic and rapid rise in obesity rates can be explained by genetics alone. Have human genes changed that much, that fast? I know the idea that choice is involved is politically incorrect, but this level of fatalism seems not quite justified.

    • Mirta Ana Schultz

      The human environment has changed a lot, so maybe epigenetics is key here. Something “switching on” –expressing itself–due to environmental alterations–even the food has been messed with a lot in the last 40+ years in the processing.

      Sedentary modern lifestyle is part, too. But when there is abundant, affordable, processed foods, there’s the factor that some do not have a satiety response like others. Learned that very early on–a best friend could be satisfied with one slice of toast or could eat masses of food and stay a size 5. Why is one person satisfied with amounts of food that maintain 120 lbs and another only with amounts that satisfy 220 lbs or 320 lbs? Satiety hormone regulation matters and that’s individualistic, meaning it’s controlled by the person’s physiology (DNA affects that).

      I know that I went and got genetic testing, because of all my siblings, I was the only one whose body type was my mom’s body type (the others took after dad’s, an always skinny guy, and may mom always a woman plumper) and I was the only one with weight issues since childhood (living in same household). I did have many obesity markers.

      I think most of it is the Western food environment and hyperpalatable foods available all the time, but I won’t discount some new gene expressions. We shall see. I assume they will continue studying this.

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