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Obesity Can Be Genetic, Study Confirms

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Genetics might have even more to do with obesity than we thought

It’s long past time for our society to stop blaming fat people for their appearance and start accepting all people for who they are. Increasingly, researchers are uncovering evidence that — just like hair color, shoe size, skin color, and many other physical attributes — body mass is at least somewhat predetermined by the genes you were born with.

Researchers at Duke University discovered a gene in mice that directs some bodies to store fat more readily — and they believe a similar gene causes some humans to persistently gain weight without any fault of their own.

Certain variations of a gene that codes for a protein called ankyrin-B cause fat cells to absorb glucose more quickly. In the study, mice with the genetic variation had fat cells that more than “doubled their size” after storing large amounts of glucose. The fat expansion occurred regardless of eating and exercising the same amount as other mice with a different genetic makeup.

“We believe this gene might have helped our ancestors store energy in times of famine,” explained study author Dr. Vann Bennett. “In current times, where food is plentiful, ankyrin-B variants could be fueling the obesity epidemic.”

This raises the question of whether obesity is really an “epidemic” at all. This genetic trait, which helped our ancestors survive into modernity, seems a classic example of natural selection. The better bodies were at storing fat, the longer they were able to persist through harsh conditions.

This also correlates with the stockpile of research showing that humans considered overweight or obese tend to live longer.

Of course, this study discovered just one gene that had an impact on obesity — the report estimates that only 8.4 percent of African-Americans and only 1.3 percent of European-Americans carry the genes for variant ankyrin-B. As we know, there are billions of genes that make up the human body; it’s highly likely that many others play a role as well. The researchers are calling this genetic predisposition to fat “fault-free obesity.” People of all dietary habits and exercise regimens are likely subject to genetic factors that influence weight gain.

That means the fat kid at school might not have been bingeing on Oreos and French fries — and might have been eating the same amount of food as, if not less food than, his peers. The only difference is that he was probably bullied for it.

Fatphobia in America has been worsening alongside aesthetic ideals of thinness and demonization of obese people.

With obesity being labeled a disease and clothes, chairs, and other aspects of our environment built off of the assumption that we’re all meant to be thin, the weight stigma the average fat person experiences is monstrous. The bigger a person gets, the more the world rejects the space they take up. Weight stigma, unlike obesity, has been causally linked to adverse health effects such as heart disease.

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Hopefully this will help us all get one step closer to accepting our bodies as they are, and focusing less on weight loss and more on introducing real healthful behaviors into our lives.