SCIENCE
10/27/2014 02:45 pm ET Updated Oct 27, 2014

The Good News And The Bad News About Beating Obesity

There's no escaping the fact that obesity raises the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other medical problems.

But as obese people know all too well, one of the biggest downsides to being overweight is emotional: having to endure nasty looks and snide comments from the folks who believe obese people are to blame for being fat.

That belief is simply wrong, according to Dr. Jeffrey M. Friedman, a molecular geneticist at Rockefeller University in New York City and a pioneering researcher on the causes of obesity.

"If you ask the average person on the street why some people are obese and others are not, they would say people become obese because they eat too much," Friedman said in a recent interview with The Huffington Post's senior science editor, David Freeman. "That would be true, but I think that ignores the deeper question, which is 'Why do people eat too much?'...My view, based on the evidence, is actually some people eat more than others because they show differences in a biological system that regulates food intake."

And this system, according to Friedman, is largely controlled by heredity. In fact, studies show that body weight is about 80 percent attributable to the genes one inherits. By comparison, Friedman said, height is about 85 percent attributable to genes.

We don't "pillory people for being very tall or short," Friedman said, so it makes no sense to blame obese people for being that way--or for obese people to feel ashamed.

If that's the good news about obesity, the bad news is that the same genes that make us fat in the first place also make it hard to lose excess weight and keep it off.

But Friedman doesn't see that as an excuse to give up trying to lose weight. The key, he said, is to focus on your health, not on your weight.

"If you are overweight and have a health problem," he said, "do your best to lose a little bit of weight. Turns out you don't need to normalize your weight to see marked improvements" in your health.

To learn more about research on the causes of obesity as well as Friedman's specific advice about eating to lose weight, listen to the full interview in the podcast link above.

The interview with Friedman was broadcast on Sharon, Connecticut radio station WHDD/Robin Hood Radio. Scroll down for more interviews.

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Facts About Childhood Obesity
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