Healthy Living

Is Obesity Genetic or Hereditary?

Is Obesity Genetic or Hereditary?

Key Takeaways

  • Some studies have suggested that genetic factors may also lead to a type of health complication known as ‘common obesity
  • Despite all that has been said about obesity and genetics, HPSC suggests that heredity rarely leads to weight gain on its own
  • Stress has been said to be directly connected to obesity

Obesity is a condition where the body has excessive fat. Obesity is not the same as being overweight, where a person weighs beyond what is considered to be the average. This weight could be in the form of muscle, bones, or water. Average weight is based on height.

Obesity is a condition that happens when a person eats far more than what his or her body consumes as energy. There are various factors that determine how your body uses the calories you consume with your food.

These factors include:

  • Genes
  • Overeating habits
  • Eating unhealthy foods that are rich in fat content
  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle.

Some people believe that genes are the only cause of obesity, but that is not true. A study done by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) suggests that genetic factors are only some of the many risk factors involved with obesity.

However, the role that genes play in most cases of obesity cannot be ignored. It creates an environment that encourages obesity. There are cases where people with genes that are associated with obesity don’t experience any weight problems, as well as the other way around. This is because whether genes are involved or not, a person’s lifestyle plays a crucial role in weight gain. Altering lifestyle habits, as well as support from family and friends, can help people who are obese or overweight change their weight in a positive way.

Genetic rarities

There are a few cases where genetic mutations are the main cause of obesity. Spontaneous mutations occur in genes that deal with food intake and appetite control. This has been found to cause a rare type of obesity known as monogenic obesity. There are a number of generic syndromes that are also associated with obesity, such as Bardet-Biedl and Prader-Willi.

Some studies have also suggested that genetic factors may also lead to a type of health complication known as ‘common obesity.’ Multiple genes are mostly involved in this type of obesity, according to HSPH. Some individuals tend to have more body fat than others due to common obesity. However, that does not necessary mean it is the only factor involved. The individual’s lifestyle also plays a role in building up body fats that lead to obesity.

Health complications resulting from obesity 

Obesity is one of the most preventable problems that could result in serious health complications, some of which could not only affect your quality of life but even reduce it.

A number of these health complications have a direct relationship with being obese, and the only way to deal with these issues is to lose weight. In some other ailments, weight loss could help in improving the quality of life, but they may not be the solution.

Note that the following conditions are not attributed to obesity alone.

Sleep apnea

Sleep apnea or obstructive sleep apnea is a serious condition where a person’s breathing pattern is disturbed while sleeping. This mainly occurs as the tissues situated in the back of the throat are unable to keep the airways open, leading to disturbed breathing. 

Snoring is one of the main symptoms of sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea can result in other secondary issues, such as:

  • Excessive sleep during the day
  • Problems concentrating
  • Forgetfulness
  • Falling asleep at odd hours
  • Depression

Sleep apnea is seen as one of the primary concerns in case of children suffering from obesity. To treat sleep apnea, ventilation equipment can be used that helps keep the airways open by delivering airway pressure.

Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome (OHS)

This is a medical condition where one is not able to breathe normally, which eventually causes a lowered oxygen level in the blood and creates higher level of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. Although the exact reason that triggers this disease is not known, it is believed that it occurs due to a functional error when the brain is trying to regulate breathing and excessive weight as it pressurizes against the walls of the chest.

Diabetes

One of the biggest risk factors associated with obesity is diabetes. Obesity is known to trigger type 2 diabetes in people. It also increases the chances of acquiring gestational diabetes and symptoms of diabetes during pregnancy. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease which is triggered as a part of body’s dysfunctional immune system.

There is an important link between excess weight and diabetes, which is a result of insulin resistance. Due to excess weight, the body is unable to effectively use the insulin. The glucose doesn't reach the cells to release energy in case of people suffering from insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a very common phenomenon among those who are obese. Insulin resistance leads to high glucose levels in the blood stream which is detrimental for health.

Taking control

Despite all that has been said about obesity and genetics, HSPH suggests that heredity factors rarely lead to weight gain on their own. By engaging in healthy activities and applying healthy changes in a person’s lifestyle, environment and diet can help people avoid obesity, even if genes are involved. Small lifestyle changes can play a big part in keeping obesity at bay.

Some of these changes may include:

  1. Regular walks: Taking regular walks of about 30 minutes on a daily basis can help a person keep his or her weight in check. People with tight schedules can break the 30 minutes into shorter walking periods that can fit into their schedules. A ten minute walk in the morning followed by one during a lunch break and a third one in the evening can do the trick. American Heart Association (AHA) has suggested that a simple walk may burn 240 calories in a 150-pound person. The more active a person becomes, the more calories get burned.
  2. Dietary guidelines from ChooseMyPlate.gov: ChooseMyPlate.gov is a website owned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its main goal is to fight obesity and overweight cases by encouraging healthy eating habits. It provides guidelines on healthy diet, nutrition, and general eating habits. Following these guidelines is a simple but effective way of ensuring a healthy lifestyle. It can help a person incorporate healthier foods in his or her diet. This site encourages the inclusion of plenty of vegetables and fruits in a person’s diet. It is also a good way for a person to keep track of his or her eating habits.
  3. Getting enough sleep and managing stress effectively: Stress has been said to be directly connected to obesity. According to a study done by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, increased stress leads to poor eating habits that may eventually cause obesity. There are a number of ways that a person can manage stress, even if it is not an easy process. Spending time with friends and family is a good way of relieving stress. Meditation or yoga are other examples of stress-relieving activities. Getting enough sleep can also go a long way in keeping a person healthy. Research has shown that lack of quality sleep may interfere with the functionality of certain hormones that can lead to weight gain. That means getting enough sleep may be key to healthy living.

The fact that obesity is not solely caused by genetic factors is a little comforting. Making lifestyle changes can help in evading Obesity. HSPH notes that even in cases where obesity is hereditary, there are a number of poor lifestyle habits that encourage it. Healthy lifestyle habits do not only help a person manage his or her weight, but they also increase a person's quality of life. Being overweight or obese can greatly interfere with a person’s life.

Making a few lifestyle changes can be hectic and challenging to most people, but it is worth it. It is gradual and will need a lot of patience and commitment. Beginning with small changes and improvements in normal day-to-day activities may work a lot better than trying to make a total lifestyle turnaround. A person can begin by incorporating fewer foods and drinks that are high in fat and sugar, going for regular walks, and getting enough sleep. Simple changes like these can go a long way in getting body weight under control.

Obesity in children

The number of children suffering from obesity has been on the rise for many years, and it has been declared a global epidemic. This has mostly been encouraged by easy and cheap access to fast foods and sugar. These children have mostly been affected by lack of attention and guidance from their parents, as well as other adults. According to research, genetics has also played a major role in increasing obesity cases in children. Genes and poor eating habits are passed down from parents to children.

It is clear that the number of children and teens who are said to be overweight or obese is increasing each day. This has also increased obesity cases in adults simply because most of these obese children have a greater chance of being obese as adults. They are also at risk of developing other health related issues as they become older. Some of these conditions include stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and some types of cancer. Studies have also suggested that if a child is already obese at the age of 2, he or she has a higher chance of being obese for the rest of his or her life.

A number of facts have shown that obesity is life-threatening, especially in children. This is mainly because a large number of obese children are bound to develop other severe health conditions when they get older. It can also come with a lot of negative effects on a child’s life, such as joint problems, low self-esteem, and stigmatization. Research done in France, England, and Spain showed that the risk of obesity in children begins as early as 5 years of age.

A number of lifestyle changes and medications can be applied together to work effectively. Being consistent with the treatment process can greatly assist in bringing the victim back to a normal and healthy weight again.

There are a few preventive measures and treatments that can be applied to help reduce the number of cases of obesity. These include:

  • Regular exercise and physical activities
  • Developing healthy diets and eating habits
  • Behavioral and general lifestyle changes
  • Weight-loss medications
  • Weight-loss surgery in extreme cases

Clearly, there are many options to fight the battle of obesity in both children and adults.

Healthy ways to beat obesity

Here is a simple checklist that could help someone understand what he or she is doing wrong that could be the cause behind their obesity. 

  • Eat right: Eating well is the key to keeping obesity at bay. What you eat and how much you eat matters when it comes to keeping a healthy weight. Healthy eating also involves choosing wisely and the right foods. It is about saying no to processed foods, and yes to whole grain foods, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables, Drinking water is equally important to stay healthy and keep weight in check. One should also refrain from drinking sweetened and high calorie drinks.
  • Eat the right amount of calories: Every person has a specific amount of calories that depends on their age, gender, body size, and level of physical activity. Depending upon the amount of work we do, we need to consume the right amount of calories.
  • Stay active: One of the best ways to beat obesity is by giving up on a sedentary lifestyle and adopting a more active way of life. Small ways like walking and taking the stairs can develop healthy habits, and ultimately help one fight obesity and stay fit. 
  • Drink hot water: Drinking hot water before and after meals helps lose extra fat from the body. Hot water helps in flushing out food consumed to help it avoid settling down in the body.
  • Green tea: Green tea is known to be highly effective along with diet and exercise in losing weight naturally.
  • Say no to junk: Junk food is cheap and available, which unfortunately makes it easy for people to turn to. 
  • Home remedies: There are a number of home remedies that a good dietitian or a nutritionist will be able to prescribe to you for weight loss. Remember that extra weight doesn't just show up overnight, so it will take you a while to lose it. Persistence is key.

Can obesity be life-threatening?

As mentioned above, obesity can have life-threatening implications. Obesity increases the chances of diseases like heart attack, stroke, cancers, and type 2 diabetes, all of which could lead to death. Obesity can also lead to breathlessness and other complications which could shorten the lifespan. In fact, recent studies have indicated how obesity triggered a number of premature deaths among Americans, to the extent that the intensity can be compared to smoking.