How Much Your Genes Account for Weight Gain - The Growing American Problem

Written by Heather Kim

Consume more calories than you burn and you'll be overweight. That axiom remains the accepted explanation of obesity, a condition that has reached epidemic levels in North America and Western Europe.
Scientists estimate that genes account for 60 to 90 percent of the differences in people's body weight.
Don't overestimate the importance of genes. Americans have become steadily fatter over the last 20 years, while our genes remain the same.
Low-fat foods can leave a mark on your waistline. Many people overindulge in low-fat foods ignoring high calorie consumption.
Even a modest weight loss can reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.

Ninety-seven million Americans — 55 percent of the population — are overweight or obese, according to the National Institutes of Health. But contrary to the once prevailing opinion that blamed gluttony and overindulgence, scientists now say genetics accounts for 60 to 90 percent of the differences in people's weight.

Inheriting the "fat gene" doesn't mean we're doomed to a lifetime of oversized clothing, or that we'll be obese regardless of what we eat. It means we need to take charge of diet and exercise. Here are some methods:

Don't overestimate the importance of genes. Although obesity among Americans has skyrocketed in the last 20 years, there's no question about this fact: Our genes have not changed.

Don't assume "fat-free" means a free ride on your daily calorie budget. According to Michael Fumento, author of The Fat of the Land: The Obesity Epidemic and How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves, the plethora of "low-fat," "fat-free" and "lite" foods causes many people to overindulge. Your metabolism digests calories from fat-free foods the same way it does chips or regular snacks.

Be honest with yourself (even if you're not with anyone else). A 1995 British study found that people who were overweight often said they didn't understand their weight gain. But researchers found such folks tended to underestimate their food intake by as much as 50 percent.

Keep realistic goals. If your parents are obese and you've battled a weight problem for much of your life, it's unlikely that any eating plan will make you permanently svelte.

Aim for a modest and achievable weight loss. Realize that even a 10 percent decrease in your body weight can cut your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and, perhaps, certain cancers.

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