One Obesity Gene Found

The reporting about it still makes my head explode–“Fat’s genetic! Which means… fat people have to work a lot harder not to be fat, which is still obviously the priority!”–but they’ve found a gene with a seemingly undeniable link to fat:

The finding is significant because the changed version of the gene is relatively common, at least in the European populations studied so far. The researchers report in the journal Science that around half of people have one copy of the offending version while 16% have two copies. Those with two copies are 67% more likely to be obese – defined as a body mass index of 30 or more.

“The offending version”–did you catch that? Gosh, it’s nice to hear it might be my genes that offend you now, instead of my obvious laziness and gluttony. Except, wait…

Although it might be tempting to add “it’s my genes’ fault” to “I’m big boned” as the excuse for being overweight, the discovery does not change advice to patients. “Whether you have this risk factor or not, if you are overweight you should eat less and exercise more,” said Prof McCarthy.

“As a nation, we are eating more but doing less exercise, and so the average weight is increasing, but within the population some people seem to put on more weight than others,” said co-author Andrew Hattersley from the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter. “Our findings suggest a possible answer to someone who might ask, ‘I eat the same and do as much exercise as my friend next door, so why am I fatter?'”

And having answered that question, the instructions remain the same: “eat less and exercise more”–less and more, respectively, than your naturally thin friend needs to–because it’s still your responsibility to look like naturally thin people. WTF?

This article’s also full of oft-reported but specious claims about how deadly obesity can be. As a counterpoint, I’ll refer my four devoted readers once more to Sandy Szwarc’s “Obesity Paradox” series: part one, part two, part three, part four. But still, the “obesity gene” findings are worth reading about, however couched in the same old alarmism and fatphobia, because that’s one more tiny step toward accepting fatness as a normal part of human diversity.

Only 80 gazillion more steps to go.

Update: I just posted this addendum as a long-ass comment in a thread where I was blogwhoring this article is being discussed on Fatshionista. Somebody said she read the article as more of a Health at Every Size thing, saying fat people shouldn’t give up on good nutrition and exercise even if they don’t lose weight. I said this:

You know, that may have been how they meant, but that’s not at all how it came across to me in the article. YMMV.

I don’t really disagree with your points about health here, but I also think it is so very rare that the “It’s important to take care of your body” message is presented independently of the “Fat is disgusting and awful”–indeed, “offending”–message, I’m not inclined to cut people who don’t draw that distinction sharply much slack.

The researcher says outright in this article, “If you’re overweight, you need to eat less and exercise more.” That is simply not true for everyone, even if it’s true for some. And I find it especially galling that both the scientists and the reporter oversimplify the matter like that in an article specifically saying, “Some fat people can and do eat and exercise just the same as thin people, but they remain fat because of their genes.” People here already knew that; people in the general public don’t–they ascribe gluttony and laziness to people who might very well be eating as little and exercising as much as they are. This article seems to be working very hard to say, “Don’t think this is any excuse, fatties! You still need to burn those pounds off!” instead of, “Everyone would benefit from eating healthy foods and exercising, regardless of whether they lose weight.”

Really, I just think we are SO incredibly far from a culture in which there’s any danger of someone thinking, “Awright! I can eat 5 cheeseburgers a day and never get off the couch and be perfectly healthy!” that that’s the least of my worries. I’m much more concerned about the fact that so many people truly believe that’s how all fat people are living and thinking right now–and believe it’s appropriate to revile them because of it.

Not to mention that fat people who DO eat poorly and rarely exercise don’t deserve to be ridiculed or ostracized any more than the rest of us. Nor do they deserve to be lectured and tsk-tsked about their health. If their eating and exercise habits truly issue from ignorance, then sure, compassionate education is appropriate. But the fat people I know, some of whom do live up to the stereotype, frankly, are WELL aware of the value of good nutrition and exercise. For a variety of complex reasons, they choose (and/or feel compelled) not to eat well and exercise. Which is their right as grown-ups, as far as I’m concerned. They’re still human beings with feelings and as such deserve the same dignity and respect as anyone else.

So I’m very wary of people who go on and on about how fat people MUST do X, Y, and Z, because they’re unhealthy! To me, it’s just concern trolling writ large–We’re not fatphobic, we’re just worried about their health! Well, if that were the case, you’d be worried about their mental health, too, and start protecting that by not treating them like crap, you know?

Everybody’s got the right to make non-ideal decisions about their health. I should wear more sunscreen and quit smoking. My sister should lay off the fast food and go outside more. But we’re both good people even though we don’t. And until I see a LOT more people in this society recognizing that, and acknowledging that nutrition and exercise are very personal decisions, I’m not going to spend one minute worrying about the 3 fat people left on earth who just haven’t heard that good nutrition and exercise might improve their health.

One thought on “One Obesity Gene Found

  1. Having only discovered this fabulous blog fairly recently, I’m going back through and reading your archives, especially posts like these. I think this blog may be saving my mental health!

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