Trudging the Road of Happy Destiny

DNA, Destiny, Health, and Obesity

Let’s face it. Americans don’t like the idea of accepting a preordained destiny. Nope, we’ll have none of that. We choose our own destiny here, thank you. So naturally, if the New England Journal of Medicine tells us that DNA is not destiny when it comes to our risk of heart attacks, we love it.

There’s just one problem. The investigators counted obesity as a lifestyle choice. So in their calculations, someone with obesity who gets a heart attack more or less opted for that. Having obesity is equated with choosing to smoke, working out, and eating healthy.

Apart from that one fudge factor, it’s a solid study. The investigators looked at four large studies of coronary artery disease with a total of more than 50,000 participants. They identified individuals with high, medium, and low genetic risks for coronary disease.They found that high genetic risk nearly doubled the risk of a heart attack compared to people with low genetic risks. They found that healthy lifestyle factors roughly cut the risks in half for people with high genetic risks.

One of those healthy lifestyle factors was no obesity.

It’s not a bad message. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Follow a healthy eating pattern (“diet” is so last century). Work out five days a week. Don’t get born into a family where everyone has obesity.

Oops. That last one doesn’t fit.

Anyone who has contended with obesity since birth knows they didn’t choose the obesity lifestyle. Women who experience profound metabolic changes after childbirth or menopause don’t choose it.

It’s time to let go of the biased assumption that people with obesity have signed up for it. We don’t have to capitulate. DNA is not destiny. Everyone can indeed make choices to improve their health. We have to do the best we can with the bodies we receive at birth.

But wishful thinking doesn’t obliterate obesity. And bias makes it worse.

Click here for more from the New York Times, here for the study, and here for more on the heritability of obesity.

Trudging the Road of Happy Destiny, photograph © Guy Mayer / flickr

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November 15, 2016

3 Responses to “DNA, Destiny, Health, and Obesity”

  1. November 15, 2016 at 8:04 am, Al Lewis said:

    It won’t shock you to learn that naturally the wellness industry is doing just the opposite, and testing people for genes for obesity. Their twisted logic is that if you tell people they have that gene, they will try harder to lose weight. I can’t make this stuff up.

    You’ll need to go about 2/3 of the way down to link to another article describing Aetna’s warped mind, but don’t scroll too fast — the first 2/3 is worth a read too.

  2. November 15, 2016 at 8:39 am, Mary-Jo Overwater said:

    With a strong prevalence of obesity in my family, I look at this data this way: maybe I will never be as thin as those that are genetically predisposed to being thin, even if they don’t exercise as much or eat as wholesome as I do (many actually DO eat well and exercise often, though), but at least I may be healthier. Your one line sums it up best, Ted: We have to do the best we can with the bodies we receive at birth. It’s not easy or simple, but it IS worth it.

  3. November 15, 2016 at 9:52 am, Allen Browne said:

    Or one could say “effective treatment” for obesity has a large impact on CVD risk. More evidence and another reason for people with obesity to have access to effective treatment.