A big question in the nutrition world is around genetics vs the environment. Many clients I see will swear that their weight issue is simply a family trait passed down by the genes of their parents and their parents before them.
In order to explain that this is not entirely the case, I often use this phrase:
“Genes affect our susceptibility to become overweight, but they do not define the destiny of our body weight.”
To explain this in more detail, I’ve used text from a 2002 study from Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy:
“..genetic factors determine susceptibility to disease and environmental factors determine which genetically susceptible individuals will be affected.”
Since the beginning of human life, changes in dietary patterns have been vast. However, our genes have changed very little, if at all (0.0005% variation suggested).
Therefore the environment we live in today was not one which was designed for our genetic make up. Rapid dietary changes have thereby lead to an increase in the chronic diseases we see today, including obesity.
To understand this a little better the table below helps to show the comparison between a typical Western diet and the diet of a hunter-gatherer.
Table adapted from: The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Current eating practices are high in energy density (high calorific foods) but moreover are lower in protein, fibre, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin E to name just a few. Water was previously the only source of fluid whereas in the last 30 years of so, most of the drinks consumed now contain added calories. No sugar was added to foods and our ratio of omega-6:omega-3 fatty acids was significantly different.
So, can we blame our weight problems solely on genetics? For most the answer is unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you want to look at it) absolutely not. This means that dietary and lifestyle changes can and will help most of the population to reduce their weight and improve their health.
The way to do this? Well, I’m afraid the same old, boring healthy eating messages still apply, including:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” – Michael Pollen