In this post, I'll explain my current understanding of the factors that promote obesity in humans.
To a large degree, obesity is a heritable condition. Various studies indicate that roughly two-thirds of the differences in body fatness between individuals is explained by heredity*, although estimates vary greatly (1). However, we also know that obesity is not genetically determined, because in the US, the obesity rate has more than doubled in the last 30 years, consistent with what has happened to many other cultures (2). How do we reconcile these two facts? By understanding that genetic variability determines the degree of susceptibility to obesity-promoting factors. In other words, in a natural environment with a natural diet, nearly everyone would be relatively lean, but when obesity-promoting factors are introduced, genetic makeup determines how resistant each person will be to fat gain. As with the diseases of civilization, obesity is caused by a mismatch between our genetic heritage and our current environment. This idea received experimental support from an interesting recent study (3).
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