Mayo Clinic: There Is More to Obesity than Overeating

It is generally thought that if you are overweight, you simply are taking in more calories than you burn off. Eating less and exercising more will certainly eliminate those extra pounds. While it is true that diet and activity ultimately determine your weight, the April 2002 issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource reports that there are genetic, social, behavioral, cultural and metabolic factors that also influence the numbers you see on your scale.

A family history of obesity increases your chances of being overweight by 30 percent. For many people, this is the result of familial eating and exercise patterns. But for others, there may be a genetic link to obesity. Researchers have learned that some genes play a part in determining how susceptible a person is to weight gain. One gene in particular, the leptin gene, may be mutated in some people and may increase the likelihood of obesity. More study is needed to understand leptin’s relationship to obesity.

It is important to remember that a genetic disposition towards obesity doesn’t mean you’re destined to be overweight. It only means that you may have to work harder to avoid gaining weight.

Other possible causes of obesity may include a virus that has been linked to weight gain in lab mice. Much more research is needed to prove this theory. But even if the virus is the culprit, diet and exercise are still the “cure.” And researchers also are investigating the link between dopamine and obesity. Dopamine is a chemical produced in the body that causes us to feel pleasure. Dopamine deficiency has been linked to addictive behaviors, and some researchers speculate that it could be linked to addictive-type eating disorders.

If you are overweight, you probably can’t blame it on your metabolism. Less than two percent of all cases of obesity are related to hormonal or metabolic disorders. The bottom line is that your lifestyle determines your weight and your health. What we are learning about other contributing factors may lead to treatments and preventive strategies in the future.

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