Is Being Overweight Hereditary? Our Expert Explains
Weight Loss What's inside?
Morgan Medeiros MSc
May 8, 2017

“Everyone in my family is overweight. Most of us have tried and failed (repeatedly) to lose weight. Is being overweight hereditary?”

There is some research to suggest that certain genes are involved in overweight and obesity. While genetics themselves do not cause an individual to become overweight or obese, they can make certain individuals more prone to weight gain, or make losing weight more difficult.

However, the degree to which genes work to influence weight is very small, with genetics playing a much less tangible role than diet and exercise.

The Good News

According to a research review by the Harvard School of Public Health, genetic research has validated the notion that, while genetics influence body weight to a small degree, genetic factors make only a small contribution to obesity risk. Perhaps more importantly, many people who carry genes predisposing them to obesity do not become overweight, with a healthy lifestyle and behavioral management counteracting the effect of genetic predisposition.

Research thus far suggests that genetic predisposition is not fate. Studies have validated the notion that consuming a healthy, Calorically-appropriate diet and engaging in sufficient exercise counteracts much of the gene-related obesity risk.

A study published in the clinical journal Diabetes found that physical activity and diet offset the obesity-promoting variant of the FTO gene. Individuals carrying the FTO gene are estimated to have a 20% higher likelihood of becoming overweight or obese. In the study, of 17,058 adults carrying the FTO gene, those who were sedentary or only lightly active had higher BMI’s than those who had higher levels of activity. Those who engaged in sufficient activity had BMI’s typical of individuals without the obesity promoting variant of the FTO gene.

So why are so many families overweight or obese?

Overweight and obesity are complex conditions with a multitude of causes. In most cases, a number of factors work together to create an environment that is inhospitable for weight management. Typically, poor nutrition, low exercise, and behavioral barriers work together to make losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight difficult. Habits and learned behaviors, food preferences, and internalized beliefs about diet and exercise are often shared between family members.

If your family struggles with weight and lifestyle-related health issues, it’s important to find ways to employ behavioral modification to separate yourself from unhealthy, shared family habits. Families can provide healthy support mechanisms, but are often unwilling to do so for fear of change, or perceived judgment. Turning to healthy friends, co workers, or professionals can help you create a new set of habits and a healthier future for yourself and your future family.

Morgan Medeiros is a certified nutritionist, holding a both a Bachelor and Master’s Degree in Clinical Nutrition. Morgan completed her undergraduate education at Central Washington University, and her graduate education at Northeastern University. During her time as a graduate student, Morgan focused her area of expertise in health education, weight management, and behavioral change. Morgan has experience working in areas of nutritional neuroscience and disease prevention, obesity prevention, and weight loss. Morgan also works in areas of nutritional analysis and menu labeling for restaurants, where she is able to creatively bridge her interest in food culture and health education. In her free time, Morgan enjoys traveling, reading, writing, running, and spending time with her family and friends (including- most importantly- her dog, Clyde).

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