One third of adult Americans are obese. That means more than 63.6 million people in this country have a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, some forms of cancer, and other dangerous conditions than adults who are not obese. According to the American Obesity Association (AOA), approximately 300,000 Americans die each year from the effects of obesity.
Those are pretty scary statistics. It’s even more alarming when you realize that 17% of American children are already obese or overweight and will soon be adding to the number of obese adults in our country.
There are various reasons why so many people are obese. Of course, overeating and lack of exercise play major roles. Because lifestyles are now much less active than they were a few decades ago and we now eat more processed foods, obesity has exploded across our country in the last 40 years. According to the AOA, however, genetics also effect a person’s risk for obesity.
If your family has a history of obesity, the odds are that you, too, will be prone to obesity. You are genetically predisposed to gain weight.
Understanding How Genes Influence Obesity
One explanation for genetic influence on obesity is called the “thrifty genotype” hypothesis. According to this theory, because our ancestors lived in a time when food was not as easily obtainable as it is today, the genes that added pounds to their bodies were a safety feature. They helped them survive during times of famine. Today’s environment is different. Now food is readily available throughout the year and it isn’t necessary for us to acquire as much stored fat. Unfortunately, the bodies of those of us with a family history of obesity, haven’t given up that protective measure.
Other factors include today’s sedentary lifestyles. It is no longer necessary for us to have enough calories to fuel our bodies to do the physical labor our ancestors had to do. We don’t have to chop wood, haul water, scrub our clothes by hand, or work in the fields all day. It’s not necessary for us to walk to get to where we need to be. Now we sit behind desks, drive cars everywhere we go, order in food, and spend hours in front of the television. Times have changed, but our genetic makeup has not.
Is that an excuse to give in and let yourself be obese? Is it predestined that you will always be fat? Absolutely not. There are other factors involved, the most important two being environment and behavior. Not everyone falls victim to this genetic history. Even those with generations of overweight ancestors don’t always become obese. Why? Because of their lifestyle and environment.
You may have to work harder than other people to be fit, but it can be done. You can be the first in your family to defeat obesity. Here is the secret to winning the battle of the bulge.
Energy Balance: The Key to Overcoming a Genetic Tendency to Obesity
Those people who do not fall victim to their genetic tendency to obesity are those who are active and consume only the amount of calories they need for the activities they do. Unfortunately, those of us with a genetic tendency to obesity can’t metabolize as many calories or indulge in as much inactivity as those who are predisposed to thinness.
Does that mean we have to perform calisthenics everyday or live on celery and water? Of course not. What it means is we have to find opportunities to burn calories in a way we enjoy and to prepare healthy foods that taste good. We have to balance our energy.
Calories are units of energy. The calories you consume are “energy in”. The calories you burn through activities are “energy out”. When the energy in outnumbers the energy out, your energy level is unbalanced and you gain weight. Did you know that if you eat just 150 calories a day more than the calories you burn each day you will gain an extra 10 pounds a year?
So how do you balance your energy? Start by being more active, but do what you enjoy. If you like to dance, turn on the tunes and boogie 30 minutes several times a week. If you like to swim, join the Y and go swimming 3 times a week. Find what you enjoy and do it.
As for energy in, there are countless healthy recipes available online and in bookstores. Crank up your culinary skills and start cooking instead of eating out. Take control of your food intake.
Nobody says overcoming a genetic tendency to obesity will be easy. What’s important, though, is it will be worth it to become the best you you can be.
Janet Lynch works with people to find diet delivery options for their busy lives. She is also a health fanatic who loves to read and write about the complicated thigns that can make up a obesity problem.