Overcoming Genetic Predisposition to Obesity: A Battle Worth Fighting

It is possible that obesity may be genetic. Family members may share more than just genes. They also have similar diets and lifestyles that can contribute to obesity. It is difficult to separate lifestyle factors from genetic ones. Yet, there is growing evidence that heredity plays a major role in obesity.

Unknown is whether or to what extent a physically active life style can reduce this genetic susceptibility. In a large, population-based study, we aimed to evaluate the impact of a physically fit lifestyle on genetic predisposition towards obesity. The study involved 20,430 participants (aged 39-79 years) from the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer cohort (EPIC-Norfolk) with an average of 3.6 years of follow-up. The genetic predisposition scores were calculated by adding up the BMI-increasing SNPs for each individual. A self-administered survey was used to assess physical activity. The main effects of genetic predisposition scores and their interaction with physical activities on BMI/obesity risks and BMI changes over time were examined using linear and logistic regression models, assuming that each additional allele increasing BMI has an additive effect. The conclusion was that a physically-active lifestyle is associated with a reduction of 40% in genetic predisposition for obesity. This was estimated by the number alleles of each of the 12 newly identified loci.

The environment is also a major factor. The environment includes lifestyle factors such as how much a person exercises and eats. Women often choose meals based on convenience and taste, rather than nutritional value. Most people don’t exercise enough.

People cannot change their genetic make-up, but they can alter what they eat, and how much they exercise. People have lost weight and kept it off through:

Learn how to select more nutritious meals with less fat. – A poor eating pattern of high-calorie food that is widely available, cheap, well-promoted, and tasty. This combination of ingredients leads to a predictable and understandable epidemic of diet-related illnesses. These foods may be fast and convenient, but they are also high in calories, fat and sugar. The consumption of many foods in these categories can lead to excessive calorie intake. Some foods are promoted as healthy

Low-fat, or fat free, but they may contain more calories that the food they were designed to replace. You should always read the nutritional information on food labels and eat moderately. A larger portion size can also lead to people eating more at a meal or snack. The result is an increase in calorie intake. Weight gain can happen if the body doesn’t burn the calories from large portions, soft drinks or fast food.
Visit our adult handout on healthier eating for more information.

Recognizing environmental cues that can make people want to eat even when they’re not hungry. While almost no one today eats when they’re physically hungry, many people do eat when they’re psychologically hungry. A television advertisement featuring a juicy hamburger may make you feel hungry. It’s possible to eat when you want, even if you don’t feel like it. You could be tired, bored, unhappy, or nervous. All of these are forms of psychological hunger. You can achieve or maintain a healthy body weight by listening to your body’s signals. This will lower the risk of chronic diseases. Eating is also more enjoyable when you’re truly hungry. When your body tells you it’s time to eat choose foods that you enjoy and take time to eat them.

How can we get back to the instinctive hunger signals we had as babies? This tool will help you rate your hunger. This “Hunger-Satiety Rating Scale”, from Why Weight, is a useful tool for assessing your hunger. The Guide to Stopping Compulsive Overeating by Geneen Roth.

Becoming physically active – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recently updated its guidelines, recommending that children and teenagers participate in moderate to vigorous physical activity 60 minutes or more per day. Physical activity is important in the prevention and treatment obesity. It does this by increasing energy expenditure, but also by modulating signals of satiety.

Even those with the highest genetic risk of obesity can improve their health through taking action.