Is obesity genetic or is blaming obesity on our genes just another way of avoiding personal responsibility? Studies on the Pima Indians in Southern Arizona and Northern Mexico help resolve the debate once and for all…
During the Middle Ages the Pima Indians split into two groups. One group settled in Southern Arizona and the other settled in Northern Mexico. In the 1970s the Arizona Pima Indians were forced out of farming and adopted an American diet and lifestyle.
Now the Arizona Pima Indians have one of the highest incidences of obesity reported anywhere in the world and half of their population develops type 2 diabetes by the time they reach 35 years of age. This clearly demonstrates that the Pima Indians have a genetic predisposition to obesity but are the genes alone the cause?
To do this you have to look at the Mexican Pima Indians who are gentically identical to their Arizona relatives. The Mexican Pimas still farm, lead an active and physical lifestyle and eat a more Stone Age type diet full of vegetables, grains and seeds. The difference between the Mexican and Arizona Pimas is remarkable…
Mexican Pimas are on average one inch shorter and 57 pounds lighter than their Arizona relatives and diabetes is rarely heard of in the Mexican community (1). The fact that the Mexican Pimas remain lean despite sharing the same genetic predisposition to store excess fat is clear proof that your genes are NOT the determining factor in how fat you are.. the difference is due to your lifestyle. it also indicates that the typical American and Western lifestyle is terrible for people with a genetic predisposition to store fat.
In conclusion it was found that your genes determine how much fat you can store but they don’t determine how fat you get. Others factors that are all under your control determine how fat you get.
Well why does obesity seem to run in families?
This is because you do inherit some things from your family members but it is not genetic. The biggest thing that you inherit from your family is their lifestyle habits. if you choose to adopt similar eating and lifestyle habits as your obese relatives, then of course you are going to be obese.
For American and other Western countries to halt the increasing plague of obesity they need to change their lifestyle. The good news is that lifestyle changes don’t have to be dramatic…small subtle changes to many areas of your life can make massive changes.
One simple change is to change what your focussing on. Don’t focus on trying to lose weight because your weight is not an accurate indicator of your health. For example, you will be healthier if you lost 5 pounds of fat and put on 7 pounds of muscle yet you will weigh 2 pounds heavier.
There are three healthy indicators that you can focus on:
1)You can focus on percentage body fat if you have access to an accurate way to measure it. Local health clubs, personal trainers or Universities often have the appropriate measuring tools.
2)Your body dimensions or clothes size. This is more accurate because one pound of muscle takes up less room than one pound of fat so if you are losing size it is a sure sign that you are losing fat.
3)Your energy levels. This is the most convenient and more accurate guide to healthy weight loss because your energy levels are affected by many different systems in your body so if your energy is improving it means that your body overall is working more effectively.
1) Ravussin, E. “Effects of a traditional lifestyle on obesity in Pima Indians” Diabetes care 17, no.9 (1994): 1067-1074