Thursday, February 07, 2008

It is too genetic

Check out this new study, just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in which British researchers looked at more than 5,000 pairs of identical twins and determined that

genes account for about three-quarters of the differences in a child's waistline and weight.

Here's the quote of the day:

"Contrary to the widespread assumption that family environment is the key factor in determining weight gain, we found this was not the case," said Jane Wardle, director of Cancer Research UK's Health Behavior Centre, who led the study.

So what does this mean? It means that maybe we can stop obsessing over children's BMI and focus instead on their OH--their overall health. It means that families can go back to making sure their children are healthy without all the woohoohoo about them being fat. Most important, it means that maybe, just maybe, we can start ditching some of the blame and shame about fat and pay attention to what really matters.

As the Dressing Room Project folks like to say, Worry about the size of your heart, not the size of your body. Amen, sisters.

Here's a PDF of the entire study. Have fun with it.


Anonymous said...

Quote from the article: "These results do not mean that a child with a high complement of 'susceptibility genes' will inevitably become overweight, but that their genetic endowment gives them a stronger predisposition," the researchers said.

Oh, really?

What measures do these researches propose we take to fight the "genetic endowment?" Is calorie restriction what they will propose? It's just so irritating.

I think that there are some things that could help children and families, like addressing poverty, ending dieting, toning down consumerism overall, including food advertising (and toy advertising and all advertising that targets children). These things are good to do for overall health, not because they may have an impact on weight.

I think I haven't posted here before (maybe once) but you are fantastic, I always think your perspective is wonderful. Thank you for your writing -- it's so honest and so beautiful and so compassionate.

Anonymous said...

So what does this mean? It means that maybe we can stop obsessing over children's BMI and focus instead on their OH--their overall health.

The thing is that this isn't new information. All the twin studies I'm aware of that have examined this question have come up with numbers between 70% and 80% for heritability, and so far as I know the results haven't been seriously questioned.

So if "it's mostly inherited" hasn't made a dent yet, it doesn't seem likely that one more study showing the same thing will.

Anonymous said...

Of course, this still leaves things open for the asshats to say, "Yeah, but that means you could still lose 25% or 30% of your body weight." Uh, no, sorry, it doesn't work that way. To assume that, you have to assume that the way I eat now is "maxing out" the top of my weight range. In fact the way most people eat (euphagically) puts them more or less in the middle of their ranges, and you can only stay at the very bottom of your range for so long unless you really do have unlimited time and money as well as sufficient reward beckoning as a result of agreeing to go voluntarily hungry forever (like becoming President or maybe a movie star).

However, I do think there are other factors that can raise setpoints, like chronic dieting/involuntary food insecurity or medication usage, and that the 75% heritability is probably an average more than a universal given. The point remains: If you don't know anything else about me other than my pants size, you don't know anything else about me. Period.

Alexandra Erin said...

The point remains: If you don't know anything else about me other than my pants size, you don't know anything else about me. Period.

Meowser, that's simply not true.


We'd also know your belt size.

Anonymous said...


AE, you kick my giant ass.

Harriet said...

And you ALL kick my giant ass.


wellrounded, thanks for the props. You are welcome here.

Bigger said...

Well said. Even if it's possible to over-ride genetics and keep a genetically fat child thin by starving them for life, why should that be seen as desirable instead of cruel?

Harriet said...

Unless, of course, you truly believe that fat = bad.

It all reminds me of the earnest first-grade friend who tried to convert me from Judaism to Catholocism because she didn't want me to go to hell.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic blog Harriet!As a size 18 woman with perfect blood pressure and even better cholesterol level I am glad to hear that they have figured out that you can be big and healthy. I have a nine yr old daughter whom I believe is going to be an exact replica of me,and if I ever hear a doctor tell me that I should reduce her calories or get her more excersise,well,I don't know what I would do to them.(something not nice I am sure) She eats very healthy and swims three times a week along with bike riding etc... I am trying to teach her to be accepting of and happy with her body as she grows,and I would think that being put on a diet or any such program would be counterproductive.


Harriet said...

You are one rockin' mom, Di, and your daughter is lucky to have you in her court. She'll need you, especially as she gets older and the pressure to be thin cranks up.

Unless, of course, the fatosphere can truly bring about revolution. :-)

Anonymous said...

I fear that the upshot of this article, in the popular press and elsewhere, may be

"There's a genetic link so that means people with these genes just have to Try. Harder."

And you know what? I'm trying hard enough already, thanks. I do my exercise, I eat my veggies. My blood pressure is good and my blood cholesterol is fantastically good. I can lift and carry heavy loads and walk longer distances and at a faster pace than people 20 years my junior.

But, I'm fat, so none of that "counts."

And even if I didn't do any of that stuff, I'm still a human being and not deserving of being harassed every day because of my size.

Sometimes I just want to tell the people who say I need to do more or try harder, "I got your 'try harder' right here."

Harriet said...

Sadly, it's already gone there. When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail, no? I still think it's good news, though--the start of the evidence train that will eventually leave the station. Or something like that.

Anonymous said...
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