Damn you… genetics?

Is obesity caused by genetics? The Western World is in an obesity epidemic, there is no doubt about it. This is despite an ever increasing amount of money being...
genetics-obese-mice
Is obesity caused by genetics? The Western World is in an obesity epidemic, there is no doubt about it. This is despite an ever increasing amount of money being spent by governments to fund healthy eating campaigns – and these are big campaigns. With the increasing awareness about health, what is causing this obesity epidemic? Could obesity be caused by our damn genetics?
You certainly do see a lot of claims that obesity can be caused by genetics, and mutations in the ob gene (responsible for producing leptin) have been shown to cause over eating and results in obesity. In fact, you can see in the picture of mice that a mouse which had a mutation in the ob gene (left) is much fatter than the mouse without the ob gene mutation (right).

With this information it might seem like an open and shut case – fat people aren’t fat by choice, its genetics! A genetic mutation has been found to cause obesity, the gene is the same in humans and mice, and when mice have this mutation they become obese. Right now I can imagine any overweight people  thinking ‘hallelujah! it’s not my fault, it’s genetics!

This isn’t true though. Sure, an incredibly small (and I really mean really really small) number of people may suffer from this mutation, but genetics are not the cause for the obesity epidemic.

First of all, it is very unlikely that a genetic mutation like this can become so wide spread so quickly. Then when you look at what we already know about genetics, and how little they have changed over the last 10,000 years it makes the genetic argument for obesity look more like an excuse for obesity.

The cause for obesity is actually much more complex than a genetic mutation. Sure, genetics play a role, they programme how our body works, and so they are responsible for absorbing excess food/ energy and into fat rather than pooping it out. It is our genetics which make us enjoy sweet flavours, and it is our genetics which cause to to continue to gain weight – damn you genetics!

But hang on, these genetics have served us well over the last 10,000 years, it is only the last handful of decades, where our environment has changed so dramatically, that the obesity epidemic has occurred.

The major causes of obesity as I see it are:

  1. Highly refined/processed food, which contains very little actual nutrition and is nothing but calories.
  2. highly refined/ processed food, which contains a multitude of artificial chemicals (sweeteners, preservative, flavour enhancers etc).
  3.  A seemingly endless supply of highly refined/ processed food.
  4. Highly refined/ processed foods being easily available as ready meals/ take-a-ways/ snacks etc.
  5. A sedentary lifestyle spent watching TV/ working at a desk, possibly whilst eating some type highly refined/ processed food.
  6. Exposure to artificial light at night, disrupting the circadian rhythm.
  7. Increased stress, from work, financial situations, relationships etc.
  8. A lack of responsibility for your own health.

The problem is that we have changed our environment and diet outside of the parameters which our genetics evolved to thrive in, and I think only by replicating these conditions as much as possible can we combat obesity effectively. I don’t mean becoming cavemen, I mean eating natural foods, and exercising. When people try and point the blame at uncontrollable factors such as genetics or bacteria its as of people are looking past the obvious problems, trying to find an excuse.

What do you think? Is the genetic argument for obesity an excuse or you do you think there is something more to it?

Image courtesy of pennstatelive

I hope you enjoy the site, and like what we have worked hard to create, any feedback is very much welcome, after all this site is for you! Graduate of Nutrition & Food Science (Bsc) at Reading Uni.

The Health Cloud was created in December 2011 by Craig and Morg who have been friends since high school. Our focus is to educate our readers with unbiased health articles and on the side we run our own online health shop. This website is for you, so drop us a comment or send us a tweet, we always take the time to reply!