Skinny Jeans or Skinny Genes?

Skinny jeans may be in style, but getting into them may be a challenge. While over 65% of Americans are overweight or obese, the problem is more than an issue of wardrobe. Overweight and obese Americans are roughly 35 or more pounds over a healthy weight with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 and above. Obesity is a major public health concern that increases the risk of a myriad of health-related problems. With type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and sedentary habits on the rise – better health and lifestyle changes are essential.

Economics

Healthcare costs of obesity are staggering. Obese Americans have more preventable chronic diseases that drive the costs of health care up to 41% more than their slimmer counterparts. There are many reasons for obesity that also stem from other economic factors:

  • Poverty: Junk food is cheap, available everywhere and convenient
  • Food deserts: Many areas of the U.S. could be miles from a purchase of fresh fruits, vegetables and other whole foods
  • Correlation between unemployment and obesity: Depression, lack of money and turning to food for comfort contributes
  • Powerful lobbying keeps pizza classified as a “vegetable”

Hope

The push for accessible health care for Americans still has a long way to go. However, Affordable Health Care Act plans to emphasize programs that encourage weight management and wellness, making options available to more adults in need of weight loss solutions. Although the diet industry would like for us to believe otherwise, lifestyle changes are key in addressing the obesity epidemic. Wellness: a balance of mind, body and spirit, incorporates a holistic approach to balancing the totality of the “whole person.”

Genetics

Obesity and increased BMI have a very strong hereditable component, upwards of 40-60% in many population groups. There are over 150 known genes that have some impact on being overweight or obese. For example, a gene called FTO has been one of the leading “obesigenic” candidates. In particular, carriers of one copy of the gene allele weighed on average 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) more than people with no allele copies. Carriers of two copies (16% of the normal population group) weighed 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) more and had a 1.67-fold higher rate of obesity than those with no copies. An additional study by scientists from Harvard and MIT revealed that an abnormal version of FTO causes energy from food to be stored as fat rather than metabolized. This research indicates that there could be more to obesity than over-consumption of calories and inactivity.

The advent of genetic research and discovery, personalized medicine and easier access to genetic testing, is great news in treatment options for weight loss and healthy lifestyle changes. Specialized genetics tests can indicate variances that help dietitians make recommendations for the best diet and exercise for your particular DNA.

Lifestyle

“When I interpret a patient’s genetic results as they relate to diet, we discuss options that they can be committed to for a lifetime. It’s not about putting someone on a diet, but choosing foods that work best with their genetics and lifestyle,” says Christina Galiatsatos, RD, registered dietitian for Pathway Genomics. Christina says that a healthy diet based on, for example, a Mediterranean food plan includes: fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, olive oil, fish and smaller amounts of lean meat and dairy. Of course, regular exercise and good quality sleep compliment these dietary lifestyle changes.

So skinny jeans may not be your thing. However, knowing your genetic code, coupled with some positive lifestyle changes tailored just for you could make a big difference in your overall health, starting with a healthier weight. As scientists find out more about how genetics play a part in helping doctors with personalized medicine for their patients, the future looks bright for treating obesity and possibly preventing the diseases associated with being overweight.