Obesity in America - 5 Things You Need to Know

By Jenn Sinrich on Jan 24, 2018

The idea that your heredity, genes and DNA play a role in determining your weight has been around for ages. There’s even the thought that there’s a link between obesity and genetics.

After all, your genes determine what color eyes and hair you’ll have, how tall you’ll grow and many of your personality characteristics.

Still, the connections genes have when it comes to weight has been heavily debated: Can your genes make you fat?

Or, are your diet, exercise and lifestyle habits really to blame for your expanding waistline?

The verdict is not clear, though researchers have come a long way in discovering the key genes tied to obesity.

This could open the door to an entirely new perspective and practice when it comes to treating weight problems beyond diet and exercise.

“Our bodies have evolved in a world where high-calorie food has historically been scarce and valuable, with starvation a constant danger. This is one reason obesity is so difficult to treat; our bodies are wired to protect our weight.” states Shantanu Gaur, Co-Founder & CEO of Allurion.

Obesity Facts

Obesity Facts

Since roughly around 2007, scientists have known the key gene tied to obesity. It’s called the FTO gene. Additional names for the FTO gene include:

  • Fat mass and obesity-associated protein
  • Alpha-ketoglutarate-dependent dioxygenase FTO

Chromosome 16 contains the FTO gene and researchers connected the FTO gene to obesity.

Researchers didn’t know exactly how the FTO gene correlated to weight gain and obesity, however, until 2015, when a new study, led by scientists at MIT and Harvard University, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Their experiments on mice, as well as human cells, suggests that a faulty version of the FTO gene can lead to energy from food being stored as fat, instead of being burned by the body as part of the natural metabolic process.

A common variant in the FTO gene is associated with body mass index and predisposes to childhood and adult obesity. [1]

The effects of discovering the precise role certain gene(s) play in obesity and other associated disorders is vast. Knowing of your risk for predisposition could obviate the need for lifestyles that maximize healthy diet and exercise, the need to seek help to achieve this lifestyle, or even the development of drugs that can target specific genes implicated in obesity.

Research shows that we are not there yet. Before a drug goes to clinical trial it effectiveness and safety must be extensively tested in a laboratory setting prior to enrolling human subjects. So far, we have identified some variants that are not as strong predictors as family history, so much work is still needed. [2]
Obesity Research

Obesity Articles

Study leader, Melina Claussnitzer, explained the importance of this ground-breaking research in an interview with USA Today. “For the first time, genetics has revealed a mechanism in obesity that was not suspected before.”

Another study by the University of California, Los Angeles, came to a very similar conclusion. After feeding a group of genetically diverse mice a normal diet for eight weeks, they changed their feed to a diet containing high-fat and -sugar content for the same period.

They found that the unhealthy feed leads to little-to-no changes in the body fat for some of the mice, but that other mouse showed an increased body fat percentage of as much as 600 percent.

In other words, some of the mice were genetically inclined to gain more when feeding on a high-fat and high-sugar diet. This led researchers to believe that genetics do, in fact, play a significant role in determining who gains weight and who doesn’t, independent of diet and exercise.
Obesity in the United States

Obesity in the United States

This is the tricky part. Obesity is a complex disease. According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, more than one in three U.S. adults is considered to be obese.

“All too often, we blame the victims of obesity overtaking much of the population. This is like blaming victims of drowning and makes no sense. We are drowning in a sea of processed foods engineered to be addictive or nearly so. We are drowning in ever more labor-saving and diverting technology. Throughout most of human history, calories were relatively scarce and hard to get and physical activity was unavoidable; in the modern world, it is the converse. No one thing will suffice to contain the floodwaters of obesity and rampant chronic disease, any more than a single sandbag can contain a literal flood. But if we do all the right things in all the right places, if we build the anti-obesity and chronic-disease equivalent of a levee then we can certainly turn this toxic tide.” says Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, and current President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.

The number of obese Americans steadily increased over the last five decades.

Additionally, a new study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that regular exercise can keep weight gain at bay even when you have a genetic predisposition to be overweight.

The study analyzed the FTO gene. It found that women carried a variant of the gene. However, exercising regularly reduced the effects caused by their DNA by about one-third.

This new study highlights the key importance of exercise in one’s ability to gain and lose weight regardless of their genes.

The Fat Gene and Weight Loss

People tell you “avoid certain foods high in fat and sugar” to keep your waistline slim. There’s no qualified research that won’t support this philosophy.

But researchers do believe there’s more to it, especially when your genes are concerned. There’s a link to an improper balance of food and fat storage in our body. This was laid out clearly in the book Zero Belly Diet, which showcases how certain foods and lifestyle changes can deactivate the FTO gene that causes fat storage.

Subjects in a test panel for the book lost upwards of 15 pounds in just 14 days when they limited their intake of saturated fats and sugars and increased their levels of other, fat-busting foods.

You can’t go wrong with a balanced diet consisting of natural foods. Naturally, with any diet, detox, meal plan, etc results will vary person to person so I am not surprised by Zero Belly commentary. Also, losing large amounts of weight in a short period of time is suboptimal in the long term.

Making small changes is better than drastic; if your diet does not consist of any of the foods listed, add 1 meal each day that contains a variety of them. You notice that soda did not make the list and you are an avid drinker? Decrease intake. 30 minutes of exercise not possible, how about three 0 minute sessions or a fifteen minute session? It’s all progress.
Healthy Foods for Obesity

Fight Obesity with Belly Fat Foods

Here are some they recommend:


You’ve probably heard a lot about this super grain. It’s packed with protein and loaded with amino acids, like lysine, which is essential for building muscle and burning fat. One study published in the journal Agriculture and Food Chemistry even found that quinoa can boost metabolism.

Green Tea

Green tea is an herbal remedy used since ancient time to heal just about any ailment. But, research has also found that it can reduce appetite and boost metabolism. One study published in the Chinese Medical Journal found that the catechins in green tea are linked to treating a myriad of health conditions including obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, green tea is also great for fighting inflammation.


These round blue gems might be tiny, but they pack a mighty nutritional punch. Blueberries contain polyphenols – a chemical compound linked to burning belly fat. One study, by the University of Michigan, also found that blueberries, when combined with a high-fat diet, can lower cholesterol. Another study, by Tufts University, found that consuming catechins increases abdominal fat loss by 77 percent and may even double total weight loss.


Eggs contain choline; a B-vitamin. Every cell in the body uses B-vitamins for cell building. We need our fair share of this nutrient and just four eggs are enough to fulfill your daily requirement. Females need 425 mg and males need 550 mg. Choline has a lipotropic effect on the body or breaks down fat.

Fatty Seafood

Omega-3-fatty acids are your friend—trust us on this—and fish contains a lot of it. Tuna, especially, is a great source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Both connected to turning off fat genes. Another great fish is cod. One study published in the journal, Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, linked consuming five servings of cod a week, as part of a low-calorie diet, to weight loss.

Red Meat

Beef gets a bad rep. But, it provides protein to properly break down fat. Countless studies and research have linked a diet high in protein to a decrease in hunger. In addition, lean meats contain high amounts of choline, which provides another fat-burning aspect.

Certain Spices

In addition to providing a ton of fat-free flavor to your food, many spices possess weight-loss benefits as well. Turmeric is one to add to your shelf. There’s research connecting Curcumin to boosting metabolism and burning fat. A study published in Journal of Nutrition fed mice a high-fat diet along with curcumin for a period of 12 weeks and found that they gained less weight and had less body fat when the study was complete.

Green Veggies

There’s hype surrounding a diet rich in leafy greens and vegetables—and it’s all true. Cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, kale and kohlrabi) supposedly “turn off” fat cells. The key nutrient is sulforaphane. There’s research showing it helps lower an individual’s risk of breast cancer.

Red Wine

There are health-boosting benefits of drinking red wine. One study published in Nutritional Biochemistry, found that the resveratrol in red grapes, which are used to make wine, lead to a reduction in abdominal fat in mice, despite them being fed a high-fat diet. But the key when it comes to anything, especially red wine and alcohol of any kind, is moderation.

More Research on the Genetics and Weight Loss

FTO Gene in Children

Recent Advances in Human Genetics of Adiposity

About the Author:

Jenn Sinrich is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist in NYC. When she’s not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), she can be found traveling the world and discovering more about the big apple of a city she’s always dreamed of calling home. full bio