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Bad Food, Not Bad Genes

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

We all know we are in the middle of an obesity epidemic in the United States.  Indeed, worldwide obesity is an increasing problem. Researchers from the University of Cambridge conducted a very simple study.  They looked at where people commuted to work, and whether there was any association between going by fast-food places and obesity and diabetes.

Guess what they found?  If you put a bucket of fried chicken out every half –mile along the route people take to work and back, they are fatter.  There is a correlation between fast-food outlets and being diabetic or being fat.

The point is this: Genes certainly play a role in how people handle food, but if you live in a culture that overwhelms you with the opportunities to eat junk food and fatty food, even the best genes can easily be overwhelmed.   Fast food is ubiquitous.  Bad food opportunities are everywhere.

If we are going to get a handle on the obesity epidemic, then we need to stop saying, “All you have to do is control your diet, and somehow manage the responsibility that your genes gave you.”  Telling people they have a genetic basis for obesity is kind of an excuse, or an easy way out.

We also must begin to say, “Hey, those places you drive past, those places that are advertising and marketing?  They are dangerous for you.  You might want to avoid them.”  I think we have to ask people and patients, “How often do you go?  How often are you eating there?  Do you realize that even if a place has a salad on the menu, if you get 3 Big Macs and French fries, it doesn’t  matter that a salad in on the menu?”

We must start taking more seriously the dangers that are out in the environment.  We also should think about telling our patients that a lot of fast-food promotion and fast-food presence is leading to some of the problems that their kids have. 

Maybe a better philosophy is to make it a special treat to go to one of the outlets, rather than going simply because you have run out of ideas about what to do in terms of getting a quick and easy meal.  It may be quick.  It may be easy.   But as this study showed, it is dangerous.

Let us not point the finger of blame at our genes or say, hey, exercise some self-control (without providing some kind of support).  Let us realize that in a world in which temptation is put out all around us, that is a problem we have to discuss with patients to.

Credit - Arthur L. Caplan, PhD May 27, 2014

Submitted by Patrice Stair, RN, Bariatric Coordinator

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