Obesity…Is it your zip code or genetic code?

Although eating fatty foods and no exercise are the most common and obvious determinants of obesity, they are not the only ones. Obesity involves more complex factors like the environment we live in, our genes, lifestyle, cultural background, socio-economic status, education level, hormonal issues and even stress.

Photo by Daniel Reche from Pexels

Weight gain and obesity are essentially influenced by interactions between our genes, the environment, and psychosocial (the interaction between our psychological development and our social environment) factors, which together contribute to changes in our energy balance.

Research shows that our “food environment” has a huge impact on what we eat and how much we eat. For example, if we keep a lot of sweets and high-fat foods around our house, then we’re likely to eat them—and gain weight. The same is true in the workplace: If the break room has vending machines filled with candy, chips and soda, we may be tempted to consume these diet-busting treats. Also, the physical environment has an impact depending on where we live, the availability of public parks and fitness facilities, use of technology and commuting to work.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

The socio-economic status plays a role as well. People living on a low income are more likely to live in environments that do not support healthy living where it can be difficult to find grocers who offer healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Poorer neighbourhoods generally have more fast food outlets and fewer full-sized supermarkets, fewer fitness facilities and public green spaces, which may limit physical activity. Also rates of obesity increase with remoteness as people living in remote areas have the highest rates of obesity. Moreover, familial and environmental factors may be associated with dietary choices and behaviours. For example, snacking or eating dinner while watching television, being sedentary with over use of technology, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages between meals, and skipping breakfast have been associated with an increased risk of obesity in children and youth.

Genetics plays a role in obesity. Genes can directly cause obesity. However, genes do not always predict future health. Genes and behaviour may both be needed for a person to be overweight. Epigenetics is one of the mechanisms linking environmental factors to altered gene activity and thereby an obvious link between the rapid change in eating habits and obesity. Epigenetic changes introduced during early development may increase the risk of obesity.

The socio-cultural environments that influence food, eating patterns and physical activity vary enormously across populations and these influences explain the differences in obesity levels. For example, some cultures expect the host to provide so much food and guests to over-eat, the appropriateness for girls and women to be physically active, the status of certain foods or dishes, or the beliefs in the value of food and physical activity for health. This brings us to the education level which also has a great impact. The more educated and exposed to knowledge and information, the more we are informed about health and the importance of leading a healthy balanced lifestyle. The less educated tend to be misinformed about food in contrast to the more educated who have more access to knowledge and information.

Microbiome and hormonal dysfunction are other factors need to consider. Imbalances in the microbial populations in the digestive tract adversely affect our metabolism, endocrine system, and immune function, making us more prone to metabolic disorders and hormonal dysfunction and this microbial imbalance is one of the underlying causes of obesity also exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Last but not least, stress has been linked with the consumption of highly palatable foods, high fat and sweets that in turn can lead to obesity. While physiologically it shows that stress elevates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal activity and which is followed by metabolic abnormalities that are related to weight gain. Other factors are sleep, diseases and drugs. Some illnesses may lead to obesity or weight gain like and polycystic ovary syndrome. Drugs such as steroids and some antidepressants may also cause weight gain.

I came across an interesting phrase which inspired me hence the title of this blog …

Your zip code is more important than your genetic code in determining your risk of disease and death

…this applies to obesity as well highlighting how much the environment we live in affects us so does our lifestyle choices and these ultimately affect our health and weight.

To conclude, I hope this gave you more insight into how many factors come into play with regards to obesity, not just food and exercise. No matter what genes you are born with, you have the power to change and chose to avoid obesity by making healthy lifestyle choices and habits in every aspect of your life, consistently over the long term it will make a difference.

References further reading:


Courses for further learning:

Introduction to Nutrition Course https://thenutrition.academy/introduction-to-nutrition-course/
Functional Nutrition Course https://thenutrition.academy/functional-nutrition-course/

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