Between Fog and Trees

Facing the Truth of Genetic Obesity Risks

A new study in Obesity debunks the notion that people can’t handle the truth of genetic obesity risks. Catharine Wang and colleagues conducted a randomized, controlled trial of telling people about their genetic and lifestyle risks for obesity. They found that:

Those who received genetic risk alone had greater intentions [to lose weight] at follow-up, compared with controls (p=0.0034). The impact of receiving elevated risk information on intentions varied by source and combination of risks presented. Non-elevated genetic risk did not lower intentions.

Even with stronger intentions to lose weight, the researchers saw no difference in weight outcomes. Good intentions, when it comes to weight management, do not always translate into better outcomes. Powerful biological forces are at work. Effective obesity care, in addition to good intentions, is necessary.

We regularly encounter people who are resistant to the truth of genetic obesity risks. The fact is, heritability of obesity is well-established. More than 75% of the variability in BMI is due to genetic variations.

Otherwise credible websites dish out false or misleading information to suggest that obesity is not highly heritable. “Obesity is rarely caused only by our genes,” says one consumer health site.  “Genetic factors identified so far make only a small contribution to obesity risk,” says the Obesity Prevention Source at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Genes are not destiny. This popular truism certainly applies in obesity. People can make choices and adopt behaviors to overcome their genetic risks.

But it helps to know what you’re dealing with. And this new research pokes a big hole in paternalistic notions that people at risk for obesity can’t handle the truth.

Click here for the new study in Obesity.

Between Fog and Trees, photograph © / flickr

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December 5, 2016