There’s nothing new about children blaming their parents for everything imaginable. But, as far as body fat is concerned, new research confirms that weight problems really do run in the family.
Recent findings by researchers at America’s John’s Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, have shown that people whose parents are overweight are also more than likely to pile on the pounds.
Their studies, reported in the British Journal of Nutrition, confirms previous findings that weight problems can indeed be inherited.
Evidence already suggests that one third of our body fat can be explained by our parents’ tendency to be under or overweight. Other studies show that factors such as social class and the age at which periods started, can also affect our body weight.
The research team. led by Dr Margarita S. Treuth, measured one hundred normal weight girls aged around eight-years-old, and their parents. Using an instrument called a dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) - a scanner often used for measuring osteoporosis, the researchers measured body fat (the distribution of fat and muscle within the body), body composition and body mass index (weight over height).
According to obesity experts, using the DXA scanner is a more accurate way of measuring weight compared with previous studies which relied on body mass index.
The results revealed that girls with overweight parents tended to weigh more for their age. This compared with girls with leaner parents who weighed less.
Dr Margarita S. Treuth, who led the research, said: ‘The findings point to genetics as a factor that contributes to a person’s fat composition.
‘The results give hope to future treatment of obesity. This is important since those posing a higher risk can develop complications later in life such as heart disease.’
Obesity has tripled over the last twenty years. One in two of us are overweight and one in five are obese. Obesity experts state anyone measuring over 30 BMI is obese.
So can we blame our parents for our weight problem?
Dr Finer, an obesity expert at Luton and Dunstable hospital, says we can - but only up to a point.
‘Evidence shows there are some people who are more likely to store excessive fat and put on weight than others. This means those with overweight parents may have to work harder to keep weight off.
‘You could argue that social factors such as couch potatoe culture, desk jobs and ready availability of food also play a part.
Despite this it is important to recognise that some people have a genetic predisposition to putting on weight. However in a society where it is almost normal to be overweight, we all need to work a bit harder to keep healthy and fit.’
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD