Lifewatch: Obesity

WILMINGTON -- Nearly 66 percent of adults in the United States are overweight, and so are 17 percent of children.

There is a lot more to feeling hungry than you may think.  The science behind food cravings could help explain why Americans are getting bigger.

Some people say they can't lose weight, and that being obese is in their genes.

There are 60 million adults in the United States who are overweight.

Experts at Johns Hopkins predict three out of four adults will either be overweight or obese by the year 2015.

"I always figured I got it from my parents 'cause Daddy was overweight, Mamma was heavier than what she should have been," said Jeannette Standard who thinks being fat is in her genes.

Jeannette's weighed 150 pounds in fifth grade, 180 pounds when she started high school, and 250 pounds by the time she got married.

By the time she was 30 years old, the number doubled to 500 pounds.  Then, the weight doubled again when she reached her heaviest weight of 1,200 pounds.

According to Dr. Melinda Sothern, genes may pre-determine the future weight of our children.  She said the first few years of a child's life are critical.

"They are born with a certain number of genes they inherit and then during their development, they have genes that will either turn on or turn off depending upon their environment and depending upon what behaviors they are allowed to participate in," said Dr. Sothern.

Thus proving our parents, their eating habits, and their exercise habits affect us for life.

Now, researchers have found that the FTO gene may influence obesity, and that's just the beginning.

Researchers from the University of Florida found at least 11 genetic mutations that cause the MC-4 receptor to malfunction.  That receptor controls the appetite suppressing hormone, Leptin.

More research shows that some obese people have impaired dopamine reception that makes them feel they have to eat more to be satisfied.

Jeanette worries she has passed her weight problem to her children.  Her daughter weighs 500 pounds.  Her 9-year-old grandson weighs 105 pounds.

Jeanette hopes they will learn how to reverse the trend before it is too late.

Jeannette has limited her calories to 1,200 a day and has been exercising.  She has lost more than 800 pounds, and now weighs 390 pounds.

The amount of physical activity children get in the first three years of their lives is important, because it has a lot to do with whether they will be overweight as adults.


Leslie Capo

LSU Health Sciences Center

(504) 568-4809

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital

(800) 533-3669


BACKGROUND: The statistics are simply astounding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 66 percent of adults in the United States are overweight and 17 percent of our kids are, too. Another 40 million adults are obese and three million are morbidly obese. Eight out of every 10 Americans over the age of 25 are overweight! As a result, rates of disease related to overweight and obesity have skyrocketed in recent years. About 20 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, a disease worsened by inactivity and being overweight. Heart disease continues to be the leading killer of both men and women in the United States today -- an estimated 70 percent of cases of cardiovascular disease are related to obesity. Forty-two percent of breast and colon cancers are diagnosed in obese individuals, 30 percent of gall bladder surgery is reportedly related to obesity and 26 percent of obese patients have high blood pressure. It's not about appearance anymore -- America's rapid weight gain is costing us our health and our lives.

FAT GENES? There's been much debate on the root cause of obesity. Is it a disease just like any other? Is it a lifestyle choice? Or is it, as many argue, out of one's hands and predetermined at birth? New research suggests it may be. The FTO gene has been linked to obesity and some say it can help explain why some people easily put on weight while people who make similar lifestyle decisions stay slim. In 2007, British scientists discovered when people inherited one version of the FTO gene rather than another, they are 70 percent more likely to be obese. These people have 15 percent more body fat than those without the genetic make-up and weigh an average of 6.6 pounds more than those without it. "If you do have the FTO gene, it does put you at risk for becoming obese and having type 2 diabetes and extra body fat," Emily Rubin, R.D., weight loss dietitian at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Penn., told Ivanhoe.

HUNGER HORMONE: Leptin is a protein hormone involved in regulating energy intake and expenditure, including the decrease of appetite and increase of metabolism. Although leptin is a circulating signal that reduces appetite, in general, obese people have an unusually high circulating concentration of leptin. These people are said to be resistant to the effects of leptin, similar to the way people with diabetes are resistant to insulin. Obesity then develops when people take in more energy than they use over a prolonged period of time. For these obese people, this excess food intake is not driven by hunger signals. Rather, the excess intake is occurring in spite of the anti-appetite signals from leptin.

Reported by Kristy Ondo