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Overweight and obesity are caused by genes and the environment

dna strand

There is no doubt we live in an obesogenic environment. That is, an environment that makes it much more likely for people to gain weight and develop obesity. 

It’s not just one or two things, but a complex interplay between many factors. It’s our lifestyle, technology, work life, leisure activities, time pressures, housing, communities, economy and sleep. It’s our food – what’s added to it and what’s taken out, how it’s designed to taste, advertised, transported and sold to us. It’s media, social media, screens, upbringing and culture. It’s all these things and more, and they interact in complex ways to create this obesogenic environment.

Each of us enters this environment with our own set of genes, inherited from our parents, over which we have no control. There are also powerful developmental factors – things that occur in the womb, or the first few years of life – long before we’re making any conscious decisions about diets or lifestyle.

Some of us are lucky, they inherit a set of genes and developmental factors that are highly protective against this obesogenic environment, allowing them to resist it, even thrive in it.

Some of us are not so lucky, they enter this obesogenic environment with a set of genes and developmental factors that provide no protection – or predispose them to obesity from the start. They are left highly sensitive and vulnerable to the effects of the obesogenic environment, making it almost inevitable that they gain weight or develop obesity.

I’m not saying we’re helpless. There are powerful things we can do around diet and lifestyle, and ways we can change our environment that have real impact. But compared to the power of genes and our environment, the effects of these things are small. They are certainly far too small to justify blaming or shaming people for their size, or holding them personally responsible for developing obesity.

Because, after all is said and done, overweight and obesity are caused by genes and the environment.