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Are There Genetic Causes for Obesity?

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We all know about the Healthy At Every Size Movement (HAES) and how they claim that genetics is the cause of them being overweight and or obese and that genetics is the cause that they cannot lose weight as well as other people. I’m not here today to defend that they are right and that’s why they can’t lose weight (because lets be honest, they have no idea what they’re talking about, nor can they reference any type of study that says it), nor am I here today to give any credence to the HAES movement. I’m here today to talk about genetic causes for obesity as well as causalities that people don’t talk about and believe that kcal in and kcal are the only factors in becoming obese (I have never, nor will I ever dispute that kcal in and out has been the biggest factor involving obesity, just there are underlying causes that people do not talk about, which is the a huge cause in keeping people obese). What people don’t understand is that there are underlying factors that no one talks about that lead to obesity.

When people say that there are no genetic underpinnings for obesity, they are speaking on a subject that they are extremely ignorant about. They always say “kcal in and out”. Right, which I have never disputed. Though, those same people cannot say a thing to the studies that I provide, because they cannot adapt to new information and just parrot the same things as if that disproves the studies that I link. Furthermore, obesity and diabetes (which there is a close relationship between the two), are both nowhere near close enough to being understood.

I have already covered here that ability to delay gratification has a genetic component, and that those with low ability to delay gratification, as noted in my post, had a higher chance of becoming obese than those with a better ability to delay gratification. Some people have said to me that the Marshmallow Experiment didn’t have anything to do with the ability to delay gratification, that it was something else entirely, but alas, the individual obviously said nothing more when I asked him to comment on the post so my readers can read the exchange.

You all know that I covered ethnicity and obesity, but I’m making this post to serve as a something to reference while in discussion with people, as well as educate people who don’t know about these studies.

As noted in my previous article on obesity, there are racial difference in obesity (that pretty much follow Rushton’s Rule). Of course there are socioeconomic factors that are involved there, but to say that there is no genetic component is intellectually dishonest. To believe that there are absolutely no genetic causes for obesity and that environmental factors means everything shows that that person has no idea what they are talking about.

According to a meta-study of twins and families, the heritability of BMI is between .75 and .82. This used mono and dizygotic twins, as well as having over 140 thousand participants.  They observed 12 countries, all with differing racial/ethnic groups and the results were the same.

While in a discussion with someone, I got linked these studies: Obese toddlers have dramatically lowered IQObese toddlers have dramatically lowered IQ 2 and Obesity lowers children’s IQ. This is hilarious. The causalities are completely reversed. I would love to hear the explanation for the physiological mechanism that has obesity lower IQ. Well, Satoshi Kanazawa tackled this in his study back in 2014, that low IQ leads to obesity, obesity doesn’t lead to low IQ.

A few of the highlights include:

  • Cross-sectional studies conclude that obesity lowers IQ, whereas longitudinal studies conclude that those who become obese already have a low IQ since childhood
  • Careful examination of longitudinal studies in Sweden, New Zealand and America clearly show that the casual direction goes from low IQ to obesity, not obesity to low IQ
  • There is NO scientific evidence that shows that obesity leads to lowered IQ. There is, however, ample evidence, both in scientific theory as well as ample amounts of evidence that lower IQ people become obese

Individuals with IQs below 74 at 18 have BMI of 26.59 at 40, whereas those with IQs above 126 have BMI of 25.75 (P < 0.001). Similarly, there is a clear and monotonically negative association between intelligence at 18 and the BMI change from 18 to 40. Individuals with IQs below 74 gain 5.19 in BMI in 22 years, whereas those with IQs above 126 gain 3.73 (P < 0.001). Their conclusion remains identical even when they control for systolic and diastolic blood pressure, resting pulse rate, birth place, birth year, and education at conscription. Their results from a large population sample of Swedish men make it clear that it is adolescent intelligence that influences BMI in middle age, not the other way around

The fact of the matter is this: obesity does not lower IQ. Those with certain agendas would like you to believe that becoming obese drops IQ, whereas ample scientific data shows the opposite. Including this study which states that those in the cohort who became obese didn’t see a drop in IQ from childhood, instead, those individuals who became obese already had a lower IQ since childhood. You already know that I did not get a response to these studies. That’s because showing people that they’re wrong actually makes them believe their wrong beliefs more, especially if they have low self-confidence (how ironic).

There have been genes that have been found that are associated with binge eating. If a young adolescent has this particular variant on the FTO gene, they are 20 to 30 percent more likely to binge eat than those who don’t have the variant. This was observed in girls particularly, who were 30 percent more likely to binge eat if they had the variation.

Dr. Peter Atilla had a TED Talk on how obesity may be hiding an even more insidious problem. To quote from the transcript:

Yet when it came to a disease like diabetes that kills Americans eight times more frequently than melanoma, I never once questioned the conventional wisdom. I actually just assumed the pathologic sequence of events was settled science.

Three years later, I found out how wrong I was. But this time, I was the patient. Despite exercising three or four hours every single day, and following the food pyramid to the letter, I’d gained a lot of weight and developed something called metabolic syndrome. Some of you may have heard of this. I had become insulin-resistant.

Now, most researchers believe obesity is the cause of insulin resistance. Logically, then, if you want to treat insulin resistance, you get people to lose weight, right? You treat the obesity. But what if we have it backwards? What if obesity isn’t the cause of insulin resistance at all? In fact, what if it’s a symptom of a much deeper problem, the tip of a proverbial iceberg? I know it sounds crazy because we’re obviously in the midst of an obesity epidemic, but hear me out. What if obesity is a coping mechanism for a far more sinister problem going on underneath the cell? I’m not suggesting that obesity is benign, but what I am suggesting is it may be the lesser of two metabolic evils.

You can think of insulin resistance as the reduced capacity of our cells to partition fuel, as I alluded to a moment ago, taking those calories that we take in and burning some appropriately and storing some appropriately. When we become insulin-resistant, the homeostasis in that balance deviates from this state. So now, when insulin says to a cell, I want you to burn more energy than the cell considers safe, the cell, in effect, says, “No thanks, I’d actually rather store this energy.” And because fat cells are actually missing most of the complex cellular machinery found in other cells, it’s probably the safest place to store it. So for many of us, about 75 million Americans, the appropriate response to insulin resistance may actually be to store it as fat, not the reverse, getting insulin resistance in response to getting fat.

You can think of insulin as this master hormone that controls what our body does with the foods we eat,whether we burn it or store it. This is called fuel partitioning in the lingo. Now failure to produce enough insulin is incompatible with life. And insulin resistance, as its name suggests, is when your cells get increasingly resistant to the effect of insulin trying to do its job. Once you’re insulin-resistant, you’re on your way to getting diabetes, which is what happens when your pancreas can’t keep up with the resistance and make enough insulin.

But most important, I was left with these three burning questions that wouldn’t go away: How did this happen to me if I was supposedly doing everything right? If the conventional wisdom about nutrition had failed me, was it possible it was failing someone else? And underlying these questions, I became almost maniacally obsessed in trying to understand the real relationship between obesity and insulin resistance.

So what I’m suggesting is maybe we have the cause and effect wrong on obesity and insulin resistance.Maybe we should be asking ourselves, is it possible that insulin resistance causes weight gain and the diseases associated with obesity, at least in most people? What if being obese is just a metabolic response to something much more threatening, an underlying epidemic, the one we ought to be worried about?

Let’s look at some suggestive facts. We know that 30 million obese Americans in the United States don’t have insulin resistance. And by the way, they don’t appear to be at any greater risk of disease than lean people. Conversely, we know that six million lean people in the United States are insulin-resistant, and by the way, they appear to be at even greater risk for those metabolic diseases I mentioned a moment ago than their obese counterparts. Now I don’t know why, but it might be because, in their case, their cells haven’t actually figured out the right thing to do with that excess energy. So if you can be obese and not have insulin resistance, and you can be lean and have it, ******this suggests that obesity may just be a proxy for what’s going on.******

So what if we’re fighting the wrong war, fighting obesity rather than insulin resistance? Even worse, what if blaming the obese means we’re blaming the victims? What if some of our fundamental ideas about obesity are just wrong?

Personally, I can’t afford the luxury of arrogance anymore, let alone the luxury of certainty. I have my own ideas about what could be at the heart of this, but I’m wide open to others. Now, my hypothesis, because everybody always asks me, is this. If you ask yourself, what’s a cell trying to protect itself from when it becomes insulin resistant, the answer probably isn’t too much food. It’s more likely too much glucose: blood sugar. Now, we know that refined grains and starches elevate your blood sugar in the short run,and there’s even reason to believe that sugar may lead to insulin resistance directly. So if you put these physiological processes to work, I’d hypothesize that it might be our increased intake of refined grains, sugars and starches that’s driving this epidemic of obesity and diabetes, but through insulin resistance,you see, and not necessarily through just overeating and under-exercising.

The fact of the matter is this: we need to look at any and all causes to do with obesity. To fully understand this disease is to look at any and all factors involving it. To discard theories and make new ones, or just disregard what was looked at. People who say that we shouldn’t look at these types of things really have no idea what they’re talking about. To fully understand a problem, we need to look at any and all causes that may be underlying.

I’m currently writing a research paper on Prader-Willi’s Syndrome (which I will post here when I’m done with it), and as I was watching the documentary, a few things jumped out at me:

  • They are infantile
  • They clearly have a lack of ability to delay gratification
  • Prader-Willi’s people have an IQ, on average of 70
  • Due to being infantile, they have a lack of ability to delay gratification, so along with that, they have lower IQs which is correlated with lack of abstract thought

To say that these people “can control themselves” and they “just need to eat less” is dishonest, to say the least. Those people with disorders such as these really have no say in the matter.

In a follow-up to the Marshmallow Experiment, studies were done on those individuals they could still find 40 years later. What was found that those who lacked the ability to delay gratification in pre-school ended up becoming obese. We need to identify those children with low ability to delay gratification because it’s clear that those with the lack of ability to delay gratification end up becoming obese in adulthood.

This is a favorite of mine. People may say “Fat shaming is good!!! It leads to people thinking about what they’re doing and, in turn, they will lose weight!!!” How wrong that is. Present research indicates that in addition to poorer mental health outcomes, weight discrimination has implications for obesity. ******Rather than motivating people to lose weight, weight discrimination increases the risk for obesity.****** Why people think that making fun of people will lead to weight loss is beyond me.


Interestingly, a slightly different pattern emerged when the analyses were based on measured BMI. When the sample with measured weight and height was limited to participants who were overweight at baseline, the risk of obesity was a little stronger but essentially the same (OR = 2.18, 95% CI = 1.04–4.45). In contrast, when this sample was limited to normal weight participants at baseline, there was not enough data for the analysis: of the 14 participants in the normal weight category who reported weight discrimination, none became obese

Similar to weight gain, weight discrimination was associated with remaining obese over the period between the two assessments (see Table 1). That is, those who experienced discrimination based on their weight were over three times more likely to remain obese at follow-up, rather than drop below the obesity threshold, than those who did not experience such discrimination.

The evidence is clear: weight discrimination actually increases the problem that people actually laugh at and make fun of people for. How ironic is that?

In conclusion (I will add to this post as new research comes out), to say that there are no underlying causes of obesity is intellectually dishonest. There are clear underlying causes to this obesity epidemic, which we need to look at any and all of these causes to fully understand obesity better (which we are nowhere close to understanding this problem).


1 Comment

  1. […] obese is largely in part related to environmental factors, but there are correlates with obesity and genetic factors, as well as racial and ethnic differences in obesity, which are due, in part, to environmental as […]


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