Obesity is a massive and growing problem in today’s fast-paced world of instant gratification, but exercise and diet aren’t powerful enough to solve the problem. Researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York discovered genetics play a larger role than previously thought, and published their findings in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. It isn’t a simple problem of caloric imbalance that’s responsible for the millions of obese cases throughout the world.

“Although lifestyle modifications may result in lasting weight loss in individuals who are overweight, in those with chronic obesity, body weight seems to become biologically ‘stamped in’ and defended,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Christopher Ochner, assistant professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine, according to CBS News.

Certain genes may make it easier for people to gain weight, as they influence where fat is deposited in the body. Just as genes have the power to make humans faster, stronger, mathematically inclined, or more likely to hit the booze bottle harder than others, they can make us gain weight at different rates and places on the body. The researchers wanted to take a closer look to understand how.

Diet And Exercise Obese
Obese people can't turn to diet and exercise for a solution. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

"Few individuals ever truly recover from obesity; rather they suffer from 'obesity in remission,'" Ochner said. "They are biologically very different from individuals of the same age, sex, and bodyweight who never had obesity."

During the first few months of a weight-loss program or diet, most obese people find rapid success in weight loss. However, the researchers said 80 to 95 percent of them eventually gain the weight back. Their genetic makeup has become so severely altered from years of training the body to eat poorly and survive on minimal physical activity. Once they start losing weight, they must undo years of damage by retraining the body.

Obesity As A Societally Prevalent Disease

There are currently 78.6 million obese adults in America, which is more than one-third the country’s population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This dangerously high number continues to rise, as there are now three times the amount of obese children as there were one generation ago — breeding a whole new nation of unhealthy adults.

Researchers hope this will help strengthen the recently declared definition of obesity as a disease. When the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease in 2013, it was with the intention of encouraging physicians to treat obesity as an illness while boosting reimbursements for obesity drugs, surgery, and therapy. The obesity policy vote was also adopted to decrease discrimination based on an individual’s genetic information.

The reinforcement of obesity as a disease is built on a carefully constructed argument, but not without cracks in its foundation. The overwhelming majority of obese people have eaten themselves into an unhealthy state coupled with a sedentary lifestyle. Yes, according to research there are some people who are genetically susceptible to weight gain and irregular fat deposits, but like most other gene-related predispositions it can be managed.

Source: Wadden TA, Ochner CN, Tasia AG, and Kushner RF. Treating obesity seriously: when recommendations for lifestyle change confront biological adaptations. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. 2015.