Is Obesity Really Genetic?

healthcare Feb 07, 2023

By: Grant Norland


It’s no secret that the rate of people who are overweight or obese has been on the rise and continues to increase.  What has changed very recently is the attitude and treatment approaches to it, especially for kids.  

Here’s some fun facts.  The rate of obesity in the U.S. among adults over 20 years of age has increased from 13.4% in 1960-62 to a whopping 42.8% in 2017-18.  Among kids, the rate has increased from 18% to 22% in the last decade alone.  

Interestingly, in that same span (1960 to 2018), the rate of American’s considered overweight by BMI standards remained relatively constant, fluctuating between 30-34%.  

Until very recently, obesity was largely associated with lifestyle choices, including diet and exercise (with the exception of specific thyroid conditions and other endocrine issues that can effect body weight).  People were encouraged to eat healthy and exercise to lose weight and avoid the chronic health conditions that come with being obese.

Many remember the food pyramid, which for all intents and purposes has been an abject failure at helping Americans maintain a healthy weight, as per the statistics cited above.  There are the obvious culprits as it relates to lifestyle: the decrease in manual labor requirements, the ease of attaining goods and services, the explosion of the use of electronic devices, etc.  Many also blame the food product industry, the marketing tactics they employ, and the ingredients they put into food products.  All probably have merit.  

Recently, we’ve seen an unsettling shift in the narrative.  

I was driving to work and heard a headline read during one of the news breaks on the radio.  “New guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for the treatment of childhood obesity… ” the reader announced.  I thought to myself, “Oh, great!  Maybe they’re finally going to make some improvements to the dietary guidelines or come out with a new campaign to increase activity for kids.”  How wrong I was. 

The radio voice explained that the AAP was now recommending medications and bariatric surgeries for children with obesity.   A fuming rage ensued as I nearly pulled off the road yelling at the radio in an angry rant.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  I’ve come to not be surprised by much anymore, after all we’ve been subjected to over the last 3 years, but this caught me.  

Kids are overweight and obese and the new solution is pills and surgery.  I wonder who could be behind that idea?  I’ll give you one guess.

No more than 2 weeks later, this segment with a Harvard physician, Dr. Fatima Curry Stanford aired on 60 mins with Lesley Stahl.  

In this segment, the doctor makes the claim that the number one cause of obesity is genetics. 


Lesley and I shared the same reaction, and you don't have to be a body-language expert to interpret what's rolling through her head when she heard that statement.

I have a question.  If the number 1 cause of obesity is genetics, why has the rate increased from 13% to 43% in just 60 years, or 2 generations?  This makes no sense on its face.  Do you suppose it’s possible that two obese parents may instill the lifestyle that led to their own obesity into their kids? 

It’s an absurd assumption.  So why would someone, especially a Harvard doctor, suggest such a thing?  Well, a little later in the segment you get the answer, and it’s no surprise.  You almost couldn’t script it any better.  Watch:

Yes, you heard that correctly, “Drs. Apovian and Stanford have been advising companies developing drugs for obesity, including the Danish company, Novo Nordisk, AN ADVERTISER ON THIS BROADCAST.”  You just watched an ad for their latest obesity medication in a long format story on 60 minutes, paid for by the manufacturer, little did you know.

I’ll leave you to connect the dots on just what exactly is going on here, but it’s pretty obvious that there is an effort from medical professionals at the highest levels to change the mindset around obesity, especially related to kids.  They’re working to instill the idea that it’s no longer within your control.  It’s now a genetic disease, to which the only logical and viable solution is medication and in some cases, surgery. 

You’re being asked to disbelieve your own eyes and intuition: your body weight is outside of your control.  Diet and exercise won’t fix anything for you.  Here, this medicine will solve all your problems.  Where have we heard this one before?

By now, you already know where I stand on this issue.  People are not helpless victims of circumstance.  I believe people have control over their actions and the outcomes from those actions.  Exercise and a good diet are hugely beneficial to overall health.  Taking the consistent action to make these a habitual part of your daily life is what makes the difference. 

If you have an overweight or obese child, I would encourage you to exhaust all options before trodding down the path of medication and surgery – it’s a dangerous road that could set them up for a lifetime of dependence on pills, which has its own problems.  Take responsibility and control of your health and the health of your children.  You certainly don’t want to leave it in the hands of those pedaling medications on 60 minutes.


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