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Diet Diva
Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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In Your Genes?


Good morning. I just returned from the Big Apple and I want to tell you about some of my culinary adventures, but today, I have to comment on a few studies that made headlines while I was away. On Friday, nearly every news outlet reported that British scientists have found an obesity gene. Earlier in the week, newspapers and TV news programs reported that people who are 100 pounds or more overweight are the fastest-growing group of overweight people in the United States (50 percent higher in 2005 than in 2000). Unfortunately, during my travels, I overheard many people linking the two stories together. I heard several comments such as, “You know they found a gene that causes obesity, that’s why so many people are overweight.”

Indeed, genetics likely does play a role in obesity, and we’re just beginning to find out how. But, it’s important to look past the headlines and remember that even if you do carry a gene that increases your risk for a given disease, you aren’t doomed. For example, according to the American Cancer Society, one third of all cancer deaths are related to our diets, physical activity levels and weight versus family history. And 30% of cancers can be prevented by not using tobacco products. What I’m trying to say is that your lifestyle (the way you eat, how active you are, if you smoke, your stress level, etc.) interacts with genetic factors to determine your risk. And the same is true for obesity.

The British researchers found that people who carry two copies of a variation of the gene weigh about 7 pounds more than people who lack it (yes, 7, not 70). The scientist estimate that about 1 in 6 of the subjects they studied (roughly 16%) carry 2 copies of the gene. According to the CDC, 66.3% of Americans are overweight and 32.2% are obese. Now, there may be other genes at play here as well, but experts agree that overweight and obesity are not solely caused by genetics. What I’m trying to say here is – don’t give up! I have a family history of cancer, but I wholeheartedly believe that my cancer preventative lifestyle will either prevent, delay, or lessen the severity of cancer in my future. And again, I believe the same is true for obesity.

In the future, genetic testing and lifestyle counseling based on genetic risk will probably become mainstream, but the latter (changing your lifestyle) will always be key. So please, don’t throw in the towel. In the airport, CNN was reporting on the story and I heard a man jokingly say to his travel companion (as he ate his fast food meal), “I guess you can’t fight Mother Nature.” I couldn’t disagree more!

photo courtesy of Geek Philosopher
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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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