Genes and Metabolism Didn’t Make Us Fat. Here’s What Did.
by Professor Jay
Because of obesity, for the first time is U.S. history medical experts are predicting that this generation of children is on track to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. In the last three decades, this new number one cause of preventable death has doubled in adults and tripled in children. Never in the history of the United States have we seen an epidemic grow at such rates.
In 100 years, people will look back at the obesity epidemic in the same way that we look at the greatest plagues in history. This is not an exaggeration! Currently, one in three children is overweight. One of five children is obese with risk factors of heart disease, only formerly seen in 50-60 year olds, such as obesity-related type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure. Two-thirds of the U.S. adult population is overweight or obese with increased risk for many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancers. I’m sure you have heard many of these numbers. But, unfortunately, we do not appear to be any closer to finding a solution to this terrifying and very real epidemic.
But why is this? If an individual burns more calories than they consume, they will lose weight. You don’t have to look further than the Biggest Loser TV show to see this in action. Every contestant – no matter how large or how ill to begin – loses drastic weight by the end of the show. It is not uncommon to see 100 pound weight losses in less than 2 months. No drugs, no pills, no magic! They exercise to burn more calories than they consume. This fact regarding weight loss is undeniable.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) spends nearly $800 million dollars a year on studies to better understand the obesity epidemic. Money is used to fund studies that hope to elucidate metabolic, genetic, tissue, and brain links that may cause obesity.
Don’t get me wrong. As a person who studies the body, I love nothing more than to read about newly discovered proteins that signal satiety, regulate energy expenditure, or cause fat to be distributed in a certain way. It’s exciting to understand how it all works. But, the bottom line is that there is nothing we are going to discover through these studies that is going to end the obesity epidemic in the general population – short of designing drugs (pills) that two thirds of the population would have to begin taking. What a travesty that would be. The problem isn’t with our proteins, genes, metabolism, etc.
The problem lies between us and our environment, i.e. our behavior.
Although there certainly are genetic components to obesity, it surely is not why the number of obese adults has doubled in just the last 3 decades. It’s not why the number of obese children has tripled in the same time. There is just NO WAY that our genes have changed in just 3 decades to produce this extraordinary problem. It’s not our proteins. It’s not our metabolism. It’s not our hormones, brains, nerves, fat cells, and whatever else people look for to blame obesity on. None of these have changed to cause the obesity epidemic.
So if our bodies aren’t the culprit, what is? Well, let’s look for what has changed in the last three decades. What has changed significantly is our environment, and how we interact with our environment. Ultimately, it is our behavior that has changed. It is our behavior that is responsible for the obesity epidemic. As much as it pains me (as a physiologist) to say this, we don’t need physiologists, geneticists, and molecular biologists to figure out the obesity epidemic, we need behavioral psychologists. We need to look at the social and behavioral factors that affect diet and exercise.
Bottom Line: Obesity comes down to 2 factors, and both of these factors are controlled by our environment and behavior.
1. What we eat
2. Our level of activity
No fad diet, pill, drug, surgery, powder, magic potion, hypnotist, or prayer is going to solve the obesity epidemic. The only hope we have to solve this epidemic is through the reprogramming of our behavior. And in order to reprogram our behavior we have to change the environment in which we interact. This includes where we eat, where we hang out, and with whom we hang out. This will lead to changes in what we eat, what activities we partake in, and which behaviors are ultimately reinforced.
So how do we go about doing this is a practical way?