Obviously, we are all at risk of becoming overweight. At this very moment I am staring at leftover birthday cake, a plate of brownies, and an inexplicably almost-empty bottle of wine. Weight gain is always just an arms length away. But, what makes some of us more prone to obesity than others? Why can some people pack it away and others just seem to pack it on?
1. Genetics – it is widely accepted that your genes play a significant role in your risk for being or becoming overweight however, evidence in this area is mostly indirect. That is, it is studied by observation. In some families, where many relatives are overweight, there appears to be a genetic link. There is a decent theory, that some individuals have inherited “energy-thrifty genes.” Our ancestors evolved techniques to protect them against famine by retaining fat. In our society, this causes a mismatch between genetics and environment since for most people in our country, food is readily available.
2. Socioeconomic factors – there is an inverse relationship between socioeconomic status and obesity in developed societies … wait, get this, for women only. The evidence is less convincing for men and children. I am not going to elaborate too much for fear of incriminating myself but lets just say that women living in poverty do not have the luxury of gym memberships, personal trainers, healthy meals delivered to their doorstep, etc.
3. Medical conditions – thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances and depression can all result in obesity. Certain medications can make you more prone to gaining weight as well. If you are on a new medication and feel more hungry or more tired, speak with your doctor. I had coffee with a friend this morning who said that for two years she blamed her weight gain on her DVR. She felt she owed it to the machine to watch all the shows it had worked so hard to record. Finally, she realized that her general fatigue started at the same time that she began taking a beta-blocker for headaches. She stopped the med, got back on track and looks and feels like a million bucks.
4. Age – Newsflash — your risk of obesity increases as you age.
5. Friends who are fat – The study that prompted obesity as a topic for this week was done by the same group at Harvard (really, really smart people) who reported in 2007 that if your friend becomes obese, your risk of becoming obese doubles. They presented the concept that obesity is infectious which explains the rate of its rise and predicts that the rise will continue. Conversely, befriending thin, healthy people does not seem to make it easier to lose weight. Figures.
Many experts convened for months to determine the other risk factors. They are much too cerebral and complicated to address here but they can be summed up as 1. not moving enough and 2. eating too much.
Tomorrow, what I see as the biggest problem — childhood obesity. Truly sad but sadly true.