Heredity and Weight: Do Weight Problems Run in Families

Food and exercise are two topics that receive great media coverage every day. One reason for this is that statistics indicate American obesity rates climbing to exceptionally high rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), almost 34 percent of adults are obese, a rate that has more than doubled since 30 years ago.

Triple the amount of children are now obese, topping out at 17 percent of the population. An assortment of factors have contributed to these rates, giving way to medical reports that herald everything from the American diet to eating disorders.

To further muddy the waters, another answer may be found in genetics. Heredity is responsible for a vast number of physiological issues, and weight management may very well be one of them.

Hereditary Aspects

Research indicates that a strong relationship exists between obesity and heredity. Genetic factors can affect how the body stores fat, the rate at which a person burns energy and the size of one's appetite. According to Barrie Wolfe-Radbill, RD, a nutritionist specializing in weight loss at New York University Medical Center, "Some people just burn calories at a slower rate than others." This is because of that magic word, heredity. The whole of these factors substantially impact weight.

Moreover, health conditions and diseases like diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome and hypothyroidism are also genetic. Each of these can play an active role in weight, even when calorie intake and exercise are strongly monitored. Researchers claim this may be the result of an inborn drive to conserve energy rather than burn it optimally.

Another way in which obesity, as well as diseases like cancer, gets passed genetically is from pregnant mothers. Dietary and environmental occurrences during pregnancy greatly influence a child's health in his or her adult years. For example, a lack of sufficient folic acid during pregnancy generally means that a child will struggle with weight management from an early age.

Other essential nutrients impact a child's overall health as well, and these must start at even the earliest stages of pregnancy. To this end, the way a person perceives food is not genetic but rather a learned behavior.

When parents are diligent in providing nourishing meals that include fruits and vegetables to their children, there is a strong likelihood that those children will continue such traditions. Conversely, when little attention is paid to diet, children have a greater chance of possessing the same sense of complacency. For this group, food is recreation rather than a mean of maintaining health.

Heredity and Obesity Research

A study conducted at Quebec's Laval University looked at 12 sets of identical twin males between the ages of 19 and 27. After ingesting an additional 1,000 calories six days a week for 100 total days, some twins gained nine pounds each while others gained up to 29 pounds each. Each pair of twins, however, gained the same amount of weight and in the same places. Some twin sets stored the extra calories as fat while others used them to build muscle tissue.

Studies like the one described have provided health professionals with a base line from which to conduct additional research. In this manner, scientists at Plymouth's Peninsula Medical School determined that obese mothers were 10 times more likely to have obese daughters, and the correlation between fathers and sons was a six-fold rise. While researchers do not believe this is strictly based upon genetics, they do attribute it to behavior sympathy. As such, daughters mimic their mothers in terms of lifestyle and appearance, and sons do the same with their fathers. Such information is critical to not only further studying the trend of obesity but also exploring treatment options.

Researchers now argue that obesity prevention needs to start with parents, as evidence supports the claim that obese adults lead to obese children. Moreover, given that obesity is indeed largely the result of heredity, lifestyle adaptations need to be made among people who are genetically disposed to that condition.


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