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Don't Blame Weight Gain On DNA

As geneticists race to map the code of the human race, many people wonder how much of their natural makeup is attributed to DNA -- including obesity. CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains in her monthlong series, The Great American Weight Loss that genetics do not mean biological destiny.

The Excuse of the Day: My whole family is overweight.

For the majority of Americans, this is not a valid excuse. Only 30 percent of the American public really has a strong genetic inheritance, says Dr. Pamela Peeke, an obesity specialist. The remaining 70 percent is related to lifestyle and environment.

For those 30 percent, studies show that a genetic predisposition can affect metabolism and appetite.

Even if you do have a genetic predisposition to obesity, you can avoid gaining weight by taking simple preventative measures.

"Genetics may load the gun but environment pulls the trigger," Peeke says. "Although you may have a predisposition, you can do plenty about it and prevent what may happen -- in this case, obesity."

There are good health reasons to safeguard against excessive weight gain. Obesity can lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and many other health problems.

Those who are genetically predisposed to obesity may have to work a little harder to lose weight, Peeke says, but the effort is worth the goal of maintaining health and fitness.

Peeke says the extra work is comparable to someone who has to work harder at learning certain subjects in school. For some, algebra is easy, while for others, to understand the same material, they must study harder. As with everything else in life, we must acknowledge our shortcomings and work harder to meet our goals.

"It's being pro-active, positive and progressive about something many people want to write off," Peeke says.

Peeke says that people need to first understand that, despite their family medical history, they can do something about it.

"It's empowering to know that you can alter your environment and your life enough to be able to prevent something like obesity which can lead to a foreshortened life," Peeke says.


The Great American Weight Loss Tip of the Day is: Don't blame your genes!

Parents play a key role in how their children manage their weight. Peeke encourages parents to be mentors for themselves and their children by being attentive to how they are eating and to how they are getting their exercise.

Peeke suggests that parents be careful not to turn eating and exercise into a "health project," but to make it fun.

Instead, ake control of your life and your health by making fitness a priority.

Reported by Dr. Emily Senay