Obesity is 77% Heritable

This post is meant to archive a study oft-cited by fat liberation activists. Please take some time to read the study, and please link to it on your own blogs if you find it compelling.

Wardle J, Carnell S, Haworth CMA, Plomin R. Evidence for a strong
genetic influence on childhood adiposity despite the force of the obeso-
genic environment
. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:398 – 404. [HTML]

Accompanying editorial:

Obesity–still heritable after all these years [PDF]

11 comments on “Obesity is 77% Heritable

  1. vesta44 says:

    You know, I was thinking about this the other day. I went to Illinois to my mother’s memorial service, and one of the things I came home with was a family photo album that my dad’s brother had put together of family members. Those photos cover family members, male and female, going back to the late 1800’s (my grandfather was born in 1895 and my grandmother in 1900). All of the women started out as average-sized in their youth, but as they aged and had children, every one of them gained weight (and not one of them would have been considered “overweight” by today’s BMI index, they would have been considered OMGDEATHFAT “obese”). So it’s no surprise to me that I’m fat, and that it started when I started having kids (I have 2). My dad and I were talking about it, and he said the cards were stacked against me ever staying average-sized like I was when I was a teenager since all the women on both sides of our family get fat as they age and have kids (and most of the women live to their late 70’s or 80’s, probably because of that size). Hell, my mother lived to 75, and the only reason she managed to survive the cancer as long as she did (ovarian cancer, for 10 years, it kept coming back, even after her ovaries were gone and she had gone thru chemo and radiation) was because she started out fat and had those reserves to draw on (she hadn’t been able to eat or drink anything, from April until Aug 20, when she finally died). The cancer had wrapped around her small intestine and there was nothing the surgeons could do but block off her stomach and put in a drain from her stomach so that anything she drank went in and came right back out (she basically starved to death). Not an easy way to go, and she had almost 5 months of that, just because she had those fat stores (and her stubbornness) to draw on. So I don’t see being fat as a bad thing at all now.

  2. Ooooh, good find, thanks. I’m attempting to create a big list of articles just like this to add to my sidebar.

  3. […] Big Liberty pointed out a fairly recent (Feb 2008) study which linked obesity to genetics.  77% linked.  While I have to shake my head at the study’s intro which states unequivocally that “The dramatic rise in childhood obesity in the past 15 y (1) is clearly due to changes in the environment, because genes have not altered.”; the discussion conclusions are more in-line with the study’s findings in that: “The results in the present study are broadly comparable to findings from earlier cohorts of young adults, which indicates that the balance of genetic and environmental effects is much the same as that before the external environment became so obesogenic. Therefore, although contemporary environments have made today’s children fatter than were children 20 y ago, the primary explanation for variations within the population, then and now, is genetic differences between individual children.” (Emphasis is mine) […]

  4. marie dufour says:

    Obesity is 100% preventable (aside from some rare syndrome, like Prader-Willy). No doubt that some genetic predisposition makes it harder for some to remain within healthy weight. But presenting the genetic bias as an excuse to make obesity acceptable is not only false, it is also irresponsible. Some of us will never be lean, some of us have to work very very hard at being well, and it’s totally unfair, I agree. Yet, healthy eating habits and maintaining a healthy weight ARE achievable, at a price: you can work at it, or you can pay for the consequences (with your healthcare dollars or with your health and life).

    • bigliberty says:

      Hi Marie,

      As soon as you come out with your own study that obesity is not 77% heritable, or can provide a reasoned argument why the study linked here (and there are several older studies which have about the same results), I’d watch out when making statements like “obesity is 100% preventable.”

      Of course, I have the sneaking suspicion you only wanted to post here to blogwhore. I’d watch out doing that on FA blogs in general, though. Most probably won’t publish such a hilariously contradictory, unscientific, and lazily thought-out comment. No matter how many foundations, organizations, and other health-related companies to which you link! 🙂

      Critical thinkers, please observe the delicious irony of an opinion posted after a non-opinion blog post. Those damn scientific results sure are stubborn things…are you sure I can’t just wish them away with my Magical Thin Thinking and Desire to Convert Bad Fatties to Good Thinness?

  5. bigliberty says:

    Oh yes, and I’m well aware of your grudging acceptance that there is a genetic ‘predisposition,’ but that’s that is no good excuse not to try to be thin, and that fatter people by nature just have to work harder.

    How hard is hard enough, by the way? Should we all just sign up for camps so we can starve and work and starve all day, under some sort of Supreme Thin enforcer? Because I guarantee you that many fat people cannot be permanently thin unless they were literally slaving/forced to do so at the extreme bounds of a human’s physical limits.

    Diets, lifestyle changes, and any reasonable “change” doesn’t make a fat person permanently thin. The only reliable way to “prevent” fatness is to disallow individuals to bring children predisposed to fatness to term. Or to starve living children and adults until they either die or go crazy from starvation’s mental anguish — thin at last!

    Certainly it is more “healthy” to remain fat, even if the misinformation you believe and promulgate about fat people and adiposity is true, given those alternatives. But it’s easier just to blame people for how they were born and crack the whip of guilt and shame, isn’t it? What makes you better than every other self-righteous ignoramous out there? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    Crack your whip elsewhere, dammit. Unlike most other groups out there, we don’t buy your superiority-via-the-cult-of-thin-sacrifice bullshit. And we don’t tolerate it for that long. Now piss off.

  6. goodbyemyboy says:

    People accept that height is primarily genetic, and studies have suggested that taller people have a higher risk of some cancers. But no one is telling tall people that, while there is some genetic predisposition to growing taller, it’s just their lot in life to work harder to remain short than the rest of us do. For their health, of course.

    But that certainly couldn’t be because there’s no deep-seated societal prejudice against tall people, or anything.

  7. bigliberty says:

    ^Great point. See my favorite post of all time, The Tall Epidemic.

  8. Cenire says:

    Also, Marie, I really don’t think you can compare Prader-Willi Syndrome with a person who is obese. Not all PWSs are obese, and not all obese people have similar characteristics as PWS’s, too. A pet peeve of mine is the automatic assumption that PWS = the Obese Disability…. and it isn’t.

  9. […] people play the part of folkdevil. The evidence suggests that the vast majority of fat people are programmed to be some degree of fat. Many pro-interventionist, anti-fat studies are conducted in a […]

  10. […] they depend on the fact that “everyone knows” how awful it is to be fat, and that weight is a choice, and that the pursuit of ceasing to exist – becoming a size zero – is an occupation […]

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