11:32 am - Monday May 28, 2012

Genetics, Environment and the ‘Weight Of The Nation’

Several top national experts featured on HBO’s The Weight of the Nation talk about genetics and the environment’s effect on obesity:

David Altshuler, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School: “When it comes to obesity, for the vast majority of people, there’s no one gene that makes a difference. There’s many, many genes, dozens, perhaps hundreds … each of which has a small effect on the obesity in the population, but which add up to a susceptibility when exposed to this environment we live in, for getting more overweight or not.

“There’s no doubt that genetics, the DNA that we inherit from our parents, affects how much we weigh. There’s also no doubt that the environment we live in affects how much we weigh. There’s no nature vs. nurture. There’s nature and nurture.

obesity“When it comes to smoking or drinking, people generally have to go cold turkey. But fundamentally we have to eat. You know, people can’t stop eating. This calls for a somewhat lonely journey of self-control. We underestimate how hard it is to change your behavior, not once, not for a week or a month till you’re cured, but to change it every day for the rest of your life.”

Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “If you go with the flow in America today, you will end up overweight or obese, as two thirds of Americans do. The weight of the nation is not healthy. And to get it healthy, we’re all going to have to do our part.

“We are seeing changes. They’re not gonna be overnight, they’re not quick, but they’re happening. And they are going to help control the weight of the nation.

“Fifty years ago, tobacco was ubiquitous. And I think in 50 years we’ll see the ubiquity of unhealthy foods today in a similar light.”

Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University: “There’s this relentless and powerful marketing of foods. You’re basically taught that you can eat everywhere, you can eat every hour of the day and that there’s something gloriously wonderful about eating foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt.

“They (food companies) have so many billions of dollars at stake in their profits that they’ll do everything they can to fight the changes that are really necessary to help address the world’s obesity problem.

“You might despair at this and say, ‘Well, what can we do about it because these companies are so powerful?’ That’s what was said about the tobacco companies 30 and 40 years ago and look what happened to them. … So if the tobacco industry can be taken on successfully by the public health world, then I don’t see any reason why the food industry can’t be the same.”

Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health: “If we don’t now take this as a really serious, urgent national priority, we are all of us individually and as a nation gonna pay a really serious price.”

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