Who you marry is more important than genetics, upbringing in determining obesity risk: study

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WATCH: Do you think your genetic makeup has pre-determined whether you’ll be obese? Think again, suggests a study – Feb 22, 2016

If you’re blaming your weight woes on your genetics and your upbringing, Scottish researchers say your parents are off the hook. In a new study, they say your partner and the lifestyle habits you forge together are much more important in determining your obesity risk.

The latest findings out of the University of Edinburgh may be promising for some: the research suggests that it’s your choices as an adult that trump your genetic make-up and the habits you forged as a child in determining weight gain.

“Although your genes play an important role in determining your chances of being obese, they are not the only determinants…by the time you reach middle age, your current lifestyle is a more important influence than your upbringing with regards to your obesity status,” lead researcher, Dr. Chris Haley of the university’s Medical Research Council, told Global News.

“You can change your lifestyle, so you can play a part in determining your obesity status,” Haley said.

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READ MORE: Your child’s weight in kindergarten could predict obesity later on

Haley and his team conducted their study with the help of the Generation Scotland project. It’s a national health database that the country is using to study a string of health-related issues.

In this case, they looked at the health records of 20,000 people from Scottish families to study the link between obesity, genetics and lifestyle habits.

The group looked at family genetics, home environments in childhood and in adulthood and then gathered 16 measures of health, such as waist to hip ratio, blood pressure levels, and body fat.

While plenty of research is shedding light on how childhood obesity puts people at risk of a lifelong battle with weight, Haley says that the lifestyle adults build with their spouses is the greatest influence on their chances of becoming obese.

It’s by middle age that choices about diet and exercise affected obesity risk most.

READ MORE: Is obesity an illness? U.S. medical association recognizes condition as official disease

“The findings show that even people who come from families with a history of obesity can reduce their risk by changing their lifestyle habits,” he said.

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“We have shown this by looking at similarities between siblings and couples with regards to obesity-related traits, and we find that if you do not count genetics, you have more in common with your partner than with your siblings or parents,” Haley warned.

So if you’re worried about weight gain, especially in middle age, try not to peg your woes on your genetics. Instead, pay attention to how you and your partner are living, the study says.

READ MORE: Measuring meals by exercise, not calories helps consumers eat healthy: study

The full findings add to growing research on the obesity epidemic occurring around the world. In Canada, obesity rates have tripled since 1985, and almost two in 10 Canadians are obese, according to estimates conducted in 2014.

By 2019, the Canadian researchers said that 21 per cent of us will be obese, with a spike in the “very obese” category.

Some research points to childhood weight acting as a marker for obesity later on, while others say our car-dependent lifestyles and processed food-laden diets are the culprits.

Haley’s research was published in the journal PLoS Genetics. Read the study here.


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