Given the research of hundreds of scientists around the world, we should have seen the breakthrough development coming. In 2021, scientists found a fat gene that could be switched off with a safe, inexpensive medical procedure. Millions rushed to solve their lifelong battle with surplus pounds, thereby adding years to their lives and reducing their risks for chronic or even fatal medical problems. Health insurance premiums plummeted as demand for medical care declined.
Sound far-fetched? Scientists who are on the verge of understanding what causes obesity may not be that far away from discovering such a solution. Here are the results of four studies that address issues from the innate nature of eating habits to the impact of genes, even to the influence of friends. Whatever the focus of their studies, these experts are seeking to help us understand the cause (or causes) of obesity:
Are Human Bodies Designed to Eat? Obesity psychologist Jim Keller, director of Behavioral Health at the WeightWise Bariatric Program in Oklahoma City, asserts that the human body and brain are designed to eat—thus explaining why losing weight proves so challenging for so many. Keller, who has conducted 14,000 psychological interviews for those considering bariatric surgery, says that the causes leading to obesity are complex. Obesity is not simply a function of laziness or an indication of emotional instability. Dr. Keller also stresses that genetic or biological factors do not act in isolation. To a greater or lesser degree, a number of factors contribute to an individual’s obesity. Keller, formerly employed in the food industry, also notes that both the availability of unhealthy food and persuasive advertising contribute to the obesity epidemic.
Fat Mice May Hold the Key to Uncovering the Causes of Obesity in Humans: For 14 years, scientists in Tarnaka, India, have been breeding and observing a special strain of mice referred to as WNIN/obese mice. Through observation and tests of these mice, which are born fat due to genetic makeup, scientists are on the verge of a major breakthrough in understanding what causes obesity. Dr. N. V. Giridharan, deputy director at the National Center for Laboratory Animal Sciences, says that he and his colleagues have already discovered the chromosome that leads to obesity in these mice and that, within the next few months, the team expects to arrive at more conclusive answers about what makes the mice so obese. Researchers hope that understanding the source of obesity in mice will lead to understanding the causes of obesity in humans.
Obesity Is in Your Genes: Researchers at King’s College London and the University of Oxford have identified a gene that appears to play a role in the regulation of weight gain. The gene, KLF14, is linked to cholesterol and diabetes, as well as obesity. This gene affects a host of metabolic traits, including body mass index and insulin and glucose levels. While this discovery confirms that the propensity for obesity does reside in genes, personal responsibility in matters of health is still an overriding factor.
Obesity Spreads among Friends through Shared Activities: A study published in the American Journal of Public Health confirms earlier findings that obesity tends to spread among friends and social acquaintances. The researchers found that the influence on friends was not the result of shared values, but rather the result of shared activities. Friends tend to enjoy similar recreation, for example, dining out or going to movies. Although the study didn’t address the issue, the results suggest the opposite may also be true—that shared fitness activities have the potential to promote healthy habits among friends. If this premise is confirmed, then community fitness efforts, which provide encouragement to individual members through positive group reinforcement, are the best strategy in the fight against obesity.
The problem with the 2021 scenario, however, is that in 2012, we have no genie to summon from a bottle who can make our surplus pounds disappear. While we don’t have a magical solution, we do have a simple solution: we can eat less and move more. Admittedly, the approach is neither original nor exciting, but it is grounded in science. Plus, the solution is safe and inexpensive. And until a scientific breakthrough provides us with an alternative, this strategy is still the best one we have.
Image credit: Mike Baird on Flickr.