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Updated 29 April 2016

'Genes' may be just an excuse for overeating

In a new study, people who thought their DNA dictated their body weight had worse diets and exercised less.

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People with a family history of obesity who believe their genes doom them to the same may "give up" and eat worse, a new study suggests.

The study found that when it comes to weight, feelings of powerlessness against one's DNA was tied to a higher body mass index  a measurement that takes into account weight and height.

Read more: Calling obesity a disease discourages weight loss 

A person with such an outlook "may engage in more behaviours that are rewarding in the short term, such as eating unhealthful foods and avoiding exercise," wrote study co-authors Drs Jessica Alquist and Mike Parent.

People who believe that genes dictate body weight may also avoid "healthful behaviours with more long-term benefits for weight management," the researchers said.

However, if doctors fight the notion that a patient's weight is "unchangeable", they might help a person's motivation to eat better and exercise more, the investigators said.

One expert in nutrition and obesity agreed. "We are predisposed to our genetic makeup, but we can still control our environment, physical activity anything is better than nothing and, like everything else in life, a change in one area will necessitate change in other areas," said Sharon Zarabi, a nutritionist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Markers for poor diets

In their study, Alquist and Parent looked at data from almost 4,200 men and nearly 4,700 women. The study found that as people get older, the idea that weight is determined more by DNA than factors people can control  such as diet and exercise  is associated with poor eating habits.

These included markers for poor diets such as eating fewer fruits and vegetables, dining out a lot, eating lots of frozen or ready-to-eat meals (such as frozen pizzas), and paying little attention to nutrition labels on food products.

Men and women who believed their weight to be genetically determined and out of their control were also less likely to exercise, according to the study. However, according to Zarabi, people need to understand that genes are not necessarily destiny, including when it comes to body weight.

While giving "excuses" for overeating is common, "when we assume responsibility for making changes whatever the sacrifice may be we are investing a part of ourselves in the planning process," she said. "This is what will ultimately increase our motivation to achieve long-term success."

Read more:

Unhealthy people blame genes 

Genetics testing and obesity 

Obese people may be missing genes 

Image: Istockphoto

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