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It isn't your fault you're obese. Can we stop the shaming now?

By Marshall Connolly, Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

After decades of dead-end research and fad diets, scientists have finally found just what makes people obese and why it's so difficult for them to lose weight and keep it off. The cause is genetic and will allow researchers to focus on more effective means of managing weight in patients.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Are obese people heavy because they are lazy, or lazy because they're heavy? This is as far as most Americans go when thinking about obesity. And it's wrong.

 It may be that effort and hard work had very little to do with it. Certainly, caloric intake matters and exercise helps, but it could be that obese people begin life at a significant disadvantage, a disadvantage so great that willpower is almost useless.

It's not about effort. According to scientists, obese people begin life with two genetic strikes against them. A common variation in the "FTO" gene makes people susceptible to obesity. Each person has two copies of the gene, one from each parent, and if one or both are defective, it will almost cause obesity in at least 70 percent of the recipients.

Individuals with defective FTO genes have higher levels of the "hunger hormone" ghrelin, and have a disposition o prefer fatty foods. They also have larger bellies as a result of the gene, which are subsequently enlarged by their intake.

The implications of these findings are important for several reasons. For one, it means that people who are obese should not be shamed or blamed entirely for their weight, especially when they struggle to control it. Obese people are predisposed to consume larger quantities of fatty foods before they feel satisfied. They're born this way, not made. It's an important distinction.

Normally, our bodies tell us to stop eating after a certain point. In obese people, that cue to stop comes much later.

Another implication of the study is that we need to revisit our strategies for promoting weight management for the obese. As a nation, we spend billions every year on fad diets, supplements that we take as pills, drink in shakes or coffee, and resort to expensive surgeries to reduce our weight. Now we know why these solutions fail, even if they offer some hope in clinical trials.

Obese people are much more likely to be genetically disposed to defeat any weight loss routine, even surgery, because the underlying cause, which is genetic, isn't being addressed.

Until new treatment options are developed, doctors suggest managing the abnormally high levels of ghrelin. Exercise, such as cycling, does reduce ghrelin levels in subjects. Also, eating high-protein food is known to help reduce the hormone.

For now, the advice is the old time-tested, eat right and exercise advice. However, this can be difficult for people who are already heavy. As a society, developing programs that start in childhood and entrench long-term healthy habits would help substantially.

Of course, we could also stop blaming and shaming overweight people altogether. That would help too.

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