Is Obesity Genetic or Environmental?

Posted on 2020/02/29 by Laparoscopic Surgical Center of New York

Do you feel that you can’t so much as look at a bar of chocolate without gaining weight? Or are you one of the lucky people who can seem to eat whatever foods they enjoy without much thought, and never put on a pound? That some people become overweight or obese and others don’t despite having the same diet and exercise habits can be a very real source of frustration for those who seem to gain weight particularly easily. If you are one of these patients, you may find that a large percentage of your thoughts are consumed by food and this can lead to an unhealthy relationship with what you eat.

You may hear of some people who are overweight or obese saying that the reason for their size is due to the ‘fat gene’ that they inherited. Does such a thing as a fat gene exist or is excess weight/obesity a result of our environment? Let’s find out.

What is obesity?

Obesity is defined as having too much body fat for your particular weight and/or height. This figure is calculated using something known as body mass index or BMI. Whilst a BMI of between 25 and 29.9 indicates that a person is overweight, only those patients with a BMI of 30 or above are classed as being obese. Recent statistics from the CDC suggest that as many as 42.4% of U.S. adults are currently classed as obese.

Most people are aware that obesity can have a significant impact on their health. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. As a result, obesity is considered a leading cause of premature death in the U.S.

Genetic obesity

Although there are many different factors that contribute to obesity, around 40% is believed to be based on our genetics. In fact, more than 400 different individual genes have been implicated as contributors towards being overweight or obese, although just a handful of these is thought to have a significant effect.

Some of the ways in which genes can influence obesity include:

-       Affecting your appetite and sense of fullness

-       Your metabolism and how fast or slow it operates

-       What food cravings you may experience

-       Your body-fat distribution

-       Your likelihood to be an emotional eater, for example using food to help combat boredom or stress

So, could genetics be to blame for your obesity?

Genes are thought to be a considerable contributor in excess weight and could be responsible for your obesity if you:

-       Have been overweight for the majority of their life.

-       Have parents or other blood relatives that are significantly overweight. In fact, research suggests that if both of your parents are obese, you are up to 80% more likely to become obese yourself.

-       Find it difficult or impossible to lose weight, even if you follow a high exercise low-calorie diet for a prolonged period of time.

What environmental factors cause obesity?

Environmental factors refer to things that are around you and that you can control, and these are believed to account for around 60% of obesity cases. However, the exact impact of each of these factors is different for everyone. Whilst one person may gain weight purely because of what they eat, another will find that their physical activity level has the biggest effect on their ability to maintain or lose weight.

Some of the most common environmental factors that affect obesity include:

-       The types of food you eat

-       When you eat

-       Portion sizes and control

-       Fruit and vegetable consumption

-       Sugar reliance

-       Physical activity levels

-       Your job

-       Your sleep patterns

-       Your recreational activities

Each of these factors and more can be controlled, and this could have a direct impact on your weight. For example, if you have a largely healthy diet but aren’t losing weight, it could be that your portion sizes are just too big and only a small change (in this case cutting portion sizes) could kick start your weight loss.

Your obesity may be primarily affected by environmental factors if you:

-       Are strongly driven by the availability of food and the desire to eat.

-       Can lose a little weight when you eat healthily and exercise, but you struggle to maintain the motivation to do so.

-       Don’t sleep well, leading you to crave fast, high-energy foods packed with carbohydrates such as chocolate or chips.

-       Your weight fluctuates in line with holiday seasons.

-       You spend a lot of your time thinking about food.

Fortunately, whether your obesity is caused by genetic or environmental factors, there are treatments that can help you to get your weight under control so that you can live a long, happy and fulfilling life. To find out more, please contact our surgical team today.

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