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Obesity: Is It Nature or Nurture?

Weight doesn’t define a person, but it certainly affects how we perceive ourselves and others. It doesn’t help that obese people (those whose BMI is over 30) are often stereotyped as lazy overeaters.

The obesity epidemic is at an all-time high in America, reaching 42.4% in 2018. Carrying that excess weight affects both the person’s self-esteem and physical health. It exposes them to risks of heart disease, stroke, and hypertension, all of which are leading causes of death in the U.S.

But when you think there’s no upside to having some excess pounds on you, experts argue being overweight is more common than being slim in revolutionary terms.

That raises the question of whether we should attribute obesity to genetics or learned lifestyle. Is obesity nature or nurture? And how do we deal with it?

For Nature

For the stance of nature and genetics to be argued, the critical term is ‘predisposition.’ Experts believe that about 80% of people have acquired genes that lead them to store fat for any foreseen danger, like a famine. When the numbers (42.4%) are looked at, this premise has some merit.

Paul Zimmet, a professor and expert on obesity from Australia, says at least half of obesity cases are caused by genetics. Healthcare professionals should address obesity as they would other genetic conditions, like depression.


For Nurture

The role of genetics in obesity was challenged when a British research study argued that an active routine could significantly reduce someone’s propensity to obesity. When trying to gain and maintain a healthy weight, experts advise focusing on exercise, not genetics.

On the other hand, it’s the ones prone to obesity who need to exert more effort to burn fat and control their appetite. Some genes prevent people from realizing they are full, while other genes mean an overweight person can do physical activities like a thin person does but burn less fat.

Ways to Address Obesity

When dealing with serious weight problems, exercise and diet may not be enough. Some professionals consider bariatric surgery (weight-loss surgery) to help the morbidly obese, especially those at risk of developing type II diabetes. The person can lose about 50% of their excess weight and live on to leading a healthier, stricter lifestyle.

Some would turn to CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, to make a positive behavioral change. This kind of treatment focuses on improving how we think about ourselves and our circumstances, enabling us to stick to the changes we’ve made.

The truth is that modifying your lifestyle is no easy feat. If it were, the obesity epidemic in this country wouldn’t be an epidemic to begin with. Neither would the health care costs for sedentary lifestyles reach more than $70 billion. It is a tough situation, and one way to truly address it is to pinpoint its roots and causes.

Regardless of whether obesity is an act of nature or nurture, experts urge the public to avoid fat-shaming. Society should stop judging an overweight person without knowing their background and health conditions, says Professor Zimmet. “Assuming someone is fat because they’re lazy or eat too much is just plain nasty.”

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