Lion of the Blogosphere

Is obesity “epidemic” genetic?

Here’s a really interesting article in the Atlantic about a new study on obesity:

The authors examined the dietary data of 36,400 Americans between 1971 and 2008 and the physical activity data of 14,419 people between 1988 and 2006. They grouped the data sets together by the amount of food and activity, age, and BMI.

They found a very surprising correlation: A given person, in 2006, eating the same amount of calories, taking in the same quantities of macronutrients like protein and fat, and exercising the same amount as a person of the same age did in 1988 would have a BMI that was about 2.3 points higher. In other words, people today are about 10 percent heavier than people were in the 1980s, even if they follow the exact same diet and exercise plans.

That’s a huge increase in BMI, with no explanation based on diet or exercise.

I have always suspected that people are getting genetically fatter because heavier people have more children than skinny people, plus there’s also dysgenic immigration. A recent study showed yet again that married people weigh more than single people, even though married people ate healthier food. Skinny people are more likely to remain single and childless.

Unfortunately, I can’t read the study itself because it’s behind a paywall.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

October 1, 2015 at 9:02 pm

46 Responses

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  1. See the breeder’s equation. That’s completely impossible.


    October 1, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    • Knew you would show up.

      Lion of the Judah-sphere

      October 2, 2015 at 8:49 am

  2. You can’t rule out environmental aspects and so quickly jump to genetics. We’ve experienced differences such as a change in exposure to chemicals like estrogen and SSRIs that are in the water supply now thanks to flushed medications. Getting weird, but even something like increased electromagnetic radiation exposure from cellphones could be having an effect. The cellphone theory probably isn’t true, but there are environmental factors that can’t be nonchalantly brushed aside. IIRC, lab rats have inexplicably gotten fatter in the past few years too and they haven’t (to my knowledge) had any big genetic changes.


    October 1, 2015 at 10:02 pm

  3. Maybe it’s the result of a feedback loop, heh

    Jokah Macpherson

    October 1, 2015 at 10:06 pm

  4. Aren’t the same factors operating in Europe and Japan? The obesity epidemic seems to concentrate itself in Mexico, the USA, and the Anglosphere. And it’s not just the humans. Dogs, cats, rats, and anything else that lives near humans in those countries are getting much fatter.

    I expect it has something to do with biochemical contamination from industrial agriculture and extreme food processing.


    October 1, 2015 at 10:55 pm

  5. Our genes as a population have not changed since 2006. These studies are almost always based on self-reports of recollections of food intake. Much more likely our servings have increased by 10 percent since 1971. That and office jobs becoming even more sedentary.


    October 1, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    • Erm, sorry, our genes have not changed as a population since 1971


      October 1, 2015 at 10:56 pm

      • “…our genes have not changed as a population since 1971”

        But they have. The US has far more colored people now than it had then.


        October 2, 2015 at 9:27 am

  6. Self-reported dietary data show systematic bias. The heavier people The more they underreport how much they eat. Before doubly labeled water, researchers actually believed that there was an inverse relationship between the amount one ate and his weight. Yes, this seems ridiculous now, but it is what the self-reported data showed.

    It was not until we had a good way to measure metabolic rate independent of self-reported data that we learned that heavier people underreport consumption more than lighter people.

    This systematic bias is likely related to stigma, and sensitivity towards food intake has likely grown over time. I would guess that people now underreport consumption more than they did in the past. If this is true, it would only appear that people eat less now than they used to despite being fatter.

    There might also be other reasons for people to underreport their consumption more now than in the past. People eat out more, eat a larger variety of foods, drink more sugar sweetened beverages, etc. it might simply be harder to track calories now than in the past, especially for people who don’t actively attempt to keep track.


    October 1, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    • I’ve noticed that obese people really do eat a lot and often. It’s like breathing to them. And nowadays they fetishize food on Facebook a lot. They share recipes and luscious photos of their restaurant meals. Food is very obviously on their minds and they seem unconscious of their own obsessiveness.

      Mrs Stitch

      October 2, 2015 at 8:58 am

      • This is true. I made a resolution several months ago to lose weight and have already gotten 18 pounds off. I realize now how I used to eat and hardly be aware of whether I was eating for enjoyment or because I was truly hungry. What got me motivated? Well, having a hard time fitting into your clothes helps a lot (too cheap to buy new clothes!) But also, I started to realize that being overweight was ……PROLE. I could hear JS saying that the average American is a buffoon – overweight, provincial, and anti-intellectual. So if I Iose weight I’ll just have to accept being provincial! The third trait mentioned doesn’t apply to me (or any of us here.)


        October 2, 2015 at 5:29 pm

  7. “taking in the same quantities of macronutrients like protein and fat”

    I wonder how much is due to increased amounts of franken-food vs. real food. There is a very big difference between 10 g of fat in a steak and 10 g of fat in a hot-pocket. Also, the shift to corn syrup and corn ingredients everywhere. When did that happen?

    A quick google shows that both Pepsi and Coke switched from sugar to corn syrup in 1984. That might be the answer right there.


    October 1, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    • Right on. 70s-80s was when the shift began from people consuming fresh foods prepared at home to more industrially processed foods, hence the spike in obesity.

      The benefits people get from the “paleo” diet, which is extremely effective for many people, can just as easily be explained as a “pre-1970s” diet.


      October 2, 2015 at 12:10 am

  8. The study used self reported data meaning its bullshit.


    October 2, 2015 at 12:42 am

  9. In black life, obesity is an intimidation strategy, especially for the women.


    October 2, 2015 at 1:05 am

    • Interesting point. I’ve noticed bulk in black males and females does have a “backing off” effect. “Throwing your weight around” can be an advantage in a society that tolerates that kind of behavior.

      The study is obviously garbage. It’s obviously misrepresented data from the start.


      October 2, 2015 at 2:47 pm

  10. It is obviously genetic to a large degree and occurs because of cross-breeding in melting pots like this one. The genes that were turned off by evolution reactivate due to cross-breeding, so you get people with the metabolism looking like that of common ancestors living 50 or 100 thousand years ago when storing lots of fat had advantage due to low and unpredictably interrupted food supply. This is similar to how blind eye-less fish taken from two separate cave systems produce significant percent of fish with eyes when put in the same fish tank. You can obviously go to Walmart and see that most grossly obese people have imprints of two or more races in their DNA.


    October 2, 2015 at 1:54 am

  11. I am pretty sure that Germany and probably east/central Europe have become considerably more obese as well although maybe not quite to the epidemic extent we witness in the US.

    Without crunching statistics, I suspect that some or all of the following are relevant:

    – wealthier populace + cheaper food (and a huge variety), especially lots of frozen/ready-made food and snacks.
    – traditional cuisine tends to be heavy on fat/meat/starchy stuff and people can now afford the former sunday dinners everyday
    – MUCH less physical labor
    – less smoking (since the 80s or so)

    The US had a head start of a decade or more on most of these points compared to e.g. Germany or Austria and about four decades or more compared to e.g. Poland.

    I also suspect that there could be special effects from estrogene or other hormonal pollution in the water and/or factory meat.
    And maybe children playing far less outside (too dangerous) in early childhood. Not sure what kind of epigenetic switches could be triggered by a different lifestyle before or during puberty. But this would probably only apply to people born in the last 35 years or even less.


    October 2, 2015 at 4:52 am

  12. Of course, this is anecdotal, but soft drinks and cereals might be another factor. When I grew up in the 70s/80s (West Germany) fizzy soft drinks/soda pops like Fanta (even more Coke) were rare and special treats for many younger kids, not something you had every day. Sure, we had comparably sweet fruit juice but not in huge quantities and often mixed with water. Cereals were oatmeal or simple cornflakes. You added a spoonful of sugar but it was not that colored sugar-coated stuff.
    I walked almost a kilometre everyday to elementary school and back, playing in the afternoons involved running or biking around, climbing trees, whatever.


    October 2, 2015 at 5:06 am

  13. It seems like we have a good model now for calories, activity and body weight via Kevin Hall at NIH. Self reported intake is unreliable and meals eaten out contain more calories than estimated. Otherwise, what we shovel in our mouths and to a lesser extent our activity determines how corpulent we become.


    October 2, 2015 at 7:02 am

  14. As Fussell pointed out being thin correlates with higher class which in our society usually means higher iq and better education. They have less kids or no kids because they are pursuing meaningful careers or life goals. Uneducated proles have the most kids because it adds value and meaning to their lives. This goes for both red state hicks and blue state nams. They also tend to be fat because they lack the intelligence or conscientiousness to make the right nutritional choices.

    Overall, I would attribute the increase in obesity to more food processing, lower public self esteem and higher rates of depression/anxiety. An increasing segment of western society is spiritually bankrupt.


    October 2, 2015 at 7:12 am

    • This is more true for women than men. Lots of lower-class men are thin. You see them all the time paired up with hefty women.


      October 2, 2015 at 10:45 am

  15. I agree with the other posters, it’s extremely well documented that people lie about their food intake. And that fat people lie more than thin people.

    There used to be a reality show called “Secret Eaters” which exposed the difference between what people say they eat and what they actually eat.

    Over the last 30 years, junk food has gotten cheaper and more easily available; restaurants have increased portion sizes; and the same is true of soda companies. In general, the food industry has gotten better at creating foods designed to entice you into buying and eating more and more. These facts are the obvious suspects for the obesity epidemic and I am inclined to think that these are in fact the causes. Note that after the introduction of Western foods, other countries all over the world have started to have similar problems.

    I do agree that Hispanic immigration may be having an impact on the overall American obesity rate, but there is still a big obesity problem even if you break things down by race.

    The bottom line is that any study on obesity which relies on self-reported food intake is essentially worthless. It’s no different from a study on the climate which relies on unverified computer models.


    October 2, 2015 at 8:45 am

  16. Single people work out to look sexy and attract a mate.

    Married people can relax and not exercise and not worry about it.


    October 2, 2015 at 8:55 am

  17. I recently attended a presentation held by a Yale Phd Sociologist about the spread of ideas through social networks.

    His research pretty convincingly demonstrated that Obesity is spread like an epidemic through social networks.

    In other words, if a body positive big is beautiful person is accepted into a social clique, then everybody in that clique becomes fatter. And, once they become fatter, the other cliques that they may also be a part of become fatter shortly afterwards.

    This research suggests to me that the only means to stop the obesity epidemic is fat shaming.

    It’s pretty obvious at this point that fat shaming will not get obese people on treadmills.

    But, specifically excluding fat individuals from social networks will prevent obesity from being spread through those networks. The shaming campaign against cigarettes never stopped smokers from huddling in the parking lots in the cold, but it stopped the spread of cigarettes. The same type of campaign ought to work for obesity.


    October 2, 2015 at 10:23 am

  18. I’ve been to Germany four times with my first trip in 2000. The German’s are definitely getting fatter, although they are no near as fat as Euro-Americans and Euro-British. I was in the Czech Republic in June and they are still a thin (and tall) people.

    Generally as you go north to south in Europe, the people are thinner, and it seems linked to the darkness of their skin rather than the weather.


    October 2, 2015 at 10:48 am

    • It’s more connected with the economy and the cost of food. And part of it is cultural.

      Many Spaniards and Italians still eat at home most of the time, because it’s cheaper to eat in with family and friends, and this has been a traditional past time. Eating out is more of an occasional/social thing (versus folks like New Yorkers who eat out every night). One can understand why middle class Southern Europeans, are able to own a city dwelling, in addition to a country home. Their Meriprole counterparts are dead broke, from all their petty splurging on restaurants and other frivolous consumption.

      The more cost prohibitive of the food, the less consumption. Food, especially junk food, in Meriprolestan, is significantly cheaper, than that of Continental Euro.


      October 2, 2015 at 12:41 pm

      • Furthermore, a comparison between Spaniards and Italians, the former group is thinner and wealthier, because they eat a lot more rice (which is cheaper), where as Italians are mostly pasta consumers.

        The myth of the poor Southern European. Southern Euros earn less, but have higher net worths than Germans, because they own real estate.

        Blame it on the Anglo-Prole-Sphere, which Germans are now emulating!


        October 2, 2015 at 12:58 pm

      • And my theory that Spaniards are “Self Hating Jews” who eat Chinese during X’mas.

        They are very fond of Asian cuisine and more open to new experiences. There are more Chinese restaurants propping up in Spain, than all of Italy and Greece. Guidos don’t eat Chinese and lack curiosity. Ha!


        October 2, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      • How the hell is rice any better than’s all carbs, all the way down.

        Mrs Stitch

        October 2, 2015 at 4:45 pm

      • “Guidos don’t eat Chinese and lack curiosity. Ha”

        Nonsense. “Guidos” eat Chinese food a lot. In fact one of my favorite hobbies in college was to photocopy articles from Commentary magazine as well as the responses to them in the letters section several months later – and read these at home while I ate. Fried rice and won ton soup go quite well with political reading. You should try the combination some time!


        October 2, 2015 at 5:43 pm

      • Chinese takeout places are all over Italian neighborhoods in NYC. And also all over black neighborhoods.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        October 2, 2015 at 6:41 pm

  19. I am a biologist, though I have no particular expertise in this field: What I find compelling is the idea that it is genetics, just not Human genetics. The make-up of the bacteria in the Human gut may be responsible. We cannot live without them and there are known diseases which come from the wrong bacterial taking up stable residence in our gut.

    We can’t go back in time to see what people really ate and how much they ate, but careful study of weight, caloric intake and metabolic activity level are key to really understanding what is going on.

    I agree with those above who note that not nearly enough time has passed for much selective change in Human genetics.


    October 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

    • “The make-up of the bacteria in the Human gut may be responsible.”

      Very much so. And this is being impacted from all directions. The massive overuse of antibiotics, especially on children, is messing up guts. Plus antibiotics in foods, in cleaners, hand cleansers. Also sexual promiscuity. You are literally every person you’ve ever slept with. Promiscuity mixes your biome up with your partner’s biome. Carousel riding women are getting bacteria from all over, as are alpha dogs. Race-mixing may play a part here too.


      October 2, 2015 at 5:27 pm

  20. BMI is weight/height^2. Seems likely that the population is becoming shorter on average – Central Americans represent a much larger share of the population as time elapses.


    October 2, 2015 at 11:22 am

  21. The series “Secret Eaters” illustrates how faulty self reporting of food consumption is. I recall one lady, nearly 300 lbs, she swore she was in starvation mode and barely eating 1200 calories a day. In truth she was eating at least three times that- but what’s surprising is that she appeared to have genuinely convinced herself she was barely eating, and was not willfully lying.

    Unless you’re using isotopic water or have participants in a secure locked unit, any study examining food intake is suspect.

    slithy toves

    October 2, 2015 at 12:02 pm

  22. It’s evolution!


    October 2, 2015 at 3:07 pm

  23. People smoke a lot less than they used to. Good for your health, but tobacco is kind of an appetite suppressant.

    Also, I think people use their cars for everything now. I live in a reasonably bikeable suburb and there are a few people who bike around, but they are rare. It’s usually older people who are serious about biking, not kids.

    Don’t see a lot of people walking, either.


    October 2, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    • The over-reliance on cars is one of the things I dislike the most about America.


      October 2, 2015 at 7:30 pm

      • You need a car to move to a suburb that is free from poor people (because poor people can’t afford to own a car).

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        October 2, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    • I think a lot of increase in car usage has to do with demographics. When I was a kid in the 70’s, two out of every three houses in our neighborhood had school-aged kids. You didn’t have to drive kids to play dates since there were dozens of kids to play with right nearby. There was a kind of critical-mass such that anytime you wanted to get a football game going, or hike in the woods or organize any kind of activity; there were kids always around and up for it.


      October 3, 2015 at 12:03 pm

  24. That’s a huge increase in BMI, with no explanation based on diet or exercise.

    No, no, no.

    The cause is over consumption of carbohydrates. Try Atkins for a few weeks if you don’t believe it.

    The Undiscovered Jew

    October 2, 2015 at 6:38 pm

  25. Where the genetic makeup of individual, racial, and other groups, comes into play is through the fact different types of people can eat more carbs without gaining weight than others. That said, the epidemic is a controllable one, i.e., new health guidelines that advise reducing carb intake while raising that of fat, meat, and low glycemic vegetables.

    The Undiscovered Jew

    October 2, 2015 at 6:53 pm

  26. Most studies asking people to report how much they eat are worthless, as they lie to themselves and researchers.


    October 2, 2015 at 6:58 pm

  27. You can read it if you pay $36. Or go to a decent college library.

    I have free access online.


    October 3, 2015 at 3:06 pm

  28. But carb intake cannot have changed all that much in the last 50 years. If anything, people eat more meat (protein) nowadays, certainly in countries that, other than the US were still comparably poor in 1960 (or even 1990, like the Eastern bloc states). So regardless of whether Atkins diet works or not, more carbs can hardly be the cause of the difference between 1970 and 2015 obesity rates in US/EU.

    nomen nescio

    October 5, 2015 at 5:29 am

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