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Thursday, March 19

Why Are We So Fat? Genes or Behavior?

Recently there have been major announcements in both the scientific and popular media regarding a possible genetic link to obesity. This raises the old debate of whether people are fat because of genes or because of their behavior. Researchers at Boston University have detected a genetic variation that may predispose people to obesity. This variation is thought to be a contributing genetic factor in obesity. Despite some very interesting research, there is not a conclusive genetic link to obesity as yet. The discovery of a gene known as, Insig2 is believed to regulate fatty acids and cholesterol synthesis. This genetic variant is found in African populations, which means that the gene must have been present prior to the time when Africans left the continent some 50,000 years ago. This genetic variant however was completely harmless until recently. What change has occurred recently that might account for this formerly harmless genetic variant becoming potentially deadly? There is a single variable that stands out. It is our behavior, in particular, our modern diet. The incidence of overweight and obesity is increasing worldwide in both developing and developed countries. Environmental and behavioral changes brought about by economic development, modernization, and urbanization have been linked to the rise in global obesity. In the past ten (10) years, the prevalence of obesity has increased by about 10% to 40% in the majority of European countries. Anyone would be hard-pressed to construct a sound genetic argument in the face of the present facts and evidence. There is growing evidence of increased obesity even amongst poorer populations around the world. All of us are getting fatter. There are an estimated 300 million adults now considered to be overweight ,with the numbers growing at an alarming rate, according to experts at the International Obesity Conference. One quarter of Middle Eastern adults are obese. In Japan, twice as many men are obese today as compared to 1982. The situation is so dramatic that economic progress in developing countries could be undermined, according to Professor Philip James, Chairman, the International Obesity Task Force. Here in the U.S. there is a group of several thousand individuals belonging to the N.W.C.R. (National Weight Control Registry) who have lost an average of 73 pounds and more importantly have kept it off for over 6 years to date. These weight-loss superstars have made specific modifications in their behavior not their genetic make-up. They have taken the following very specific steps: 1) They eat breakfast virtually everyday, 2) they weigh regularly, 3) they eat primarily a low-fat, low calorie diet, and 4) they exercise between 60 and 90 minutes each day. About seven years ago I began to look more closely at the behavioral factors of the successful 5% of dieters. Having struggled with my own weight management for most of my adult life, I was curious as to what they were doing on a consistent basis that the remaining 95% of unsuccessful dieters were not? What I found in my own experience and with clients was remarkably consistent with what the researchers at the National Weight Control Registry found. However, there were some additional factors we instituted that have allowed us to reach a success rate ten times greater than the 5% success rate of virtually all commercial weight loss programs. In addition to the above four factors, we focus on providing clients with the tools, the structure, and the support to produce superior results. By placing their weight within the broader context of their lives, many clients are able to finally sustain a manageable and healthy weight. Additionally, we provide clients with Autogenic training, an effective tool to manage stress in their lives, which will invariably arrives and derails many dieters. Finally, to accept the genetic argument, one must also assume that there has been a change in the human genetic structure over the past half century. If not, we must again look at our behavior, which we largely have control over. The fact is that overweight and obesity can be eliminated by making these very specific behavioral shifts is perhaps is the best news on the subject lately. -Dr. Michael Imani

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