Genetics doesn’t play a major role in American obesity.

We all want to blame others for our problems.  Among the many things we blame for our obesity is our genetics.  There are tons of money being spent on genetics research on obesity.  Many of my patients tell me that obesity runs in the family.

But is our obesity problem really caused by our genes?  In my view, no.  Genetics doesn’t play a major role in causing American obesity epidemic.  Let’s look at some well known facts.

  • The obesity rate for whites, blacks and hispanics in America is ~30% or higher.  The racial difference between racial groups is minimal.
  • The obesity rate in Europe is ~10%.
  • All Americans (except native americans) are new immigrants, with the earliest european immigrants arriving at US <500 years ago.

How can we explain the 3 times difference in obesity rate between US and Europe? American and European whites have been separated for no more than 500 years.  500 years are way too short for any genetic mutation to affect a large portion of a population (~30%, or 100 million of Americans are obese).  Furthermore, if it is the genetic mutations that made us so obese, why do these mutations only occur to Americans, not Europeans?  

Clearly, the problems are not at the genetic level.  Genetics’ contribution to our obesity problem is very small, if any.  Actually, the major causes of obesity are well known: appetite, slow metabolism, lack of motivational support (counseling) and reduced physical activity.  Research should be primarily focused into these causes.


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