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Episode 68: Is Obesity Genetic?


Is Obesity Genetic?

How much of a role does genetics play in obesity? Some still believe in the misconception that obesity is all about willpower and self-control.

In this episode, find out how much do our lifestyle choices, society, and genetics play a role in the obesity pandemic. We will look at the various studies done to explore the genetic basis of obesity.



Key Highlights: 

Tune in to this episode and learn:

  • The results of a 2012 survey on the general perception about causation of obesity
  • The role genes play in obesity in children
  • A study conducted on identical twins that were reared in different environments to distinguish the importance between shared genes and shared environment
  • Is it a single gene that causes obesity or a multitude of genes?
  • What role does the environment play in the expression of these genes?


Major Findings of Different Research Studies:

  • A 2012 online poll of 1143 adults conducted by Reuters found that 61% of the US adults believe that personal choices about eating and exercise, were responsible for the obesity epidemic


  • A Scandinavian study conducted in 1976 aimed to answer the question: How much of a role do genes play in obesity in children?
    • The heritability of obesity was anywhere between 40 to 60%.


  • In 1986, Albert Stunkard at the University of Pennsylvania conducted an adoption of human obesity by looking at the adoption registry of 540 adults.
    • Their study concluded that genetic influences have an important role in determining human fatness in adults, whereas the family environment alone has no apparent effect.


  • A group of scientists wanted to see if genetically similar individuals would respond similarly to overfeeding. By enrolling 12 pairs of identical male twins and offered them about 1000 calories a day, six days a week for a total of 84 days in 100 day period.
    • In this study, even though the individual changes in body composition and weight gain varied considerably. These changes were significantly similar within each of the twin pairs.


  • The HUNT study conducted in Norway concluded that genetically predisposed people are at greater risk for higher BMI. 
    • Genetic predisposition interacts with the obesogenic environment that they’re living in resulting in a higher BMI.
    • More importantly, however, BMI has increased over the past few decades for both genetically predisposed and non-predisposed people, implying that the environment remains the main contributor.


  •  The LOGIC study looked at the role of genetics in obesity treatment success through lifestyle changes in children with obesity

    • Genes play a minor role in weight reduction by lifestyle changes and environmental, social, and behavioral factors are more important to consider in obesity treatment strategies.



It is definitely an interaction between genes and the environment. But as studies have proven, it’s the environment that plays a very big role in the development of obesity, and even in the weight loss strategies that we apply.

The relative impacts of these genes, the development, and the environment are not constant for any individual. And it’s these varying levels of interaction that cause increased complexity in the development and management of obesity.



Dr. Avishkar Sabharwal

“While genetics does play a heavy role in our physical makeup, it is the environment that leads to the full expression of these genes.”

“Environment actually trumps genetic predisposition, and it remains the main contributor to obesity.” 


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