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Obesity: Genetics or Bad Habits?

by: Stefan Simonovic

Most people struggle with excess weight at some point in their life. However, those individuals with a BMI of 30 or over are considered obese, a condition which can have various physical, psychological, and emotional implications on a person’s life. Today, we’d like to take a look at the nature vs. nurture aspect of obesity, which is a far more serious approach than putting celebrity snapchats all over the fridge, hoping they could deter you from reaching for your favorite comfort food mid-diet, and "ruining everything".

The Genetic Aspect of Obesity

More than one-third of adults in the United States live with obesity. Various studies have linked obesity to a host of serious health problems, such as cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and stroke. The medical costs for treating obesity-related illnesses range from $147 billion to $210 billion per year. Scientists believe they could lower this figure if they understood the origin and genetics behind obesity a little better.

Everybody has a genetic predisposition to a certain body mass index. BMI, which is a measure of obesity, has been studied by scientists at great length to try to uncover the factors that contribute to obesity. What is clear so far is that both genetics and a person's environment are responsible for this condition. In fact, 50 percent of the BMI is genetic, and a recent study co-authored by Elizabeth Speliotes, a geneticist at the University of Michigan, revealed close to a 100 genetic regions of the human genome that are associated with BMI. This particular study helps to understand the link between fat formation and fat distribution. Also, it was found that many BMI-related genetic regions were associated with the nervous system, not just the metabolic system, which led the scientists to conclude that the nervous system plays a role in obesity as well, although it’s still not clear which role that is.

Figuring out how obesity works is one of the biggest medical challenges of our time. From what we know at the moment, some people are more predisposed to higher BMIs than others, but we don’t know why. At the same time, not all obese individuals respond to weight-loss methods and diets in the same way, something that may also be tied to their DNA. Until scientists get to the bottom of the problem, obesity isn’t going away just by telling people to "eat less and exercise more”.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors come into play even before we are born. For instance, babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy are more likely to become obese than babies born to mothers who didn’t smoke. The same goes for babies born to mothers who suffer from diabetes. As we move into childhood, we develop certain eating habits that follow us into adulthood. Children who consume sugary and processed foods and drinks at an early age are more likely to prefer these types of foods over fruits and veggies later in life, which puts them at a risk for weight gain. Keep in mind that children who play video games and watch television in excess are more likely to have a sedentary than an active adult life. Last but not least, stress and emotionally challenging situations often result in bad eating and exercise habits, which when combined with a genetic predisposition for obesity create more weight issues than can fit into a lifetime.

About the author:

Stefan is a writer and a blogger in his spare time. He also works for First Beat Media, a company that mainly focuses on the online dating niche and similar services.

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