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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 08, 2008

Nature Tops Nurture? Scientists Wrong Again…

By Mark Sisson
25 Comments

They just don’t get it. Maybe they never will.

Reader Karen was outraged enough to send us a link to a news story on MSNBC that states “Nature tops nurture for heavy kids, study says. Research on twins finds that weight is 77 percent attributable to genes.” Thanks, Karen.

Read the abstract here.

Once again, the message is, “If you’re fat, it’s not your fault and there’s little you can do about it.” Bullshit. Here’s yet another theory-biased analysis that leads one to believe genes are destiny. They are not. MDA readers, please embrace this concept: You have far more control over how your genes express themselves than has ever been thought possible. Everything you eat, every move you make, every thought you think, every breath you breathe influences gene expression. Who we become is NOT immutable, NOT carved in stone, NOT a result of choosing your parents wisely. Environment and behavior are the MAJOR influences of your health, fitness, appearance and longevity. Most of you have already had a direct experience of this.

Ironically, in an editorial in the opening pages of the same journal regarding the finding, the editorial author seems to point this out:

The report by Wardle et al opens with a rather sweeping statement that the obesity epidemic is “clearly due to changes in the environment, because genes have not altered.” Evidence in the literature to the contrary suggests the possibility of changes in the genetic background of contemporary populations by factors such as assortative mating, selection (eg, increased fecundity of moderately overweight persons), demographic changes (9), and epigenetic effects (10, 11) and that these changes could be relevant in humans as well. These changes should not be dismissed out of hand.

via The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

So I guess they get it, but they just need to prove that genes are the major drivers? Look, I won’t argue with the fact that there are some genetic predispositions to a fairly wide range of possible outcomes, but to think that obesity is unrelated to the amount of carbohydrate consumption, total caloric intake, maladaptive foods (grains, milk, trans fats), lack of exercise or even levels of stress is preposterous. You will start seeing more and more talk of the science of epigenetics – the “switches” that actually turn genes on and off – and the huge influence environment has on the epigenome (even to the extent that epigenetics can be passed on from parent to child such that what your grandmother ate can have an effect on how you develop). Yet they cling to the hope that your destiny is, well, hopeless. I leave you with the pictures of the two German identical twins Otto and Ewald who simply chose different physical behaviors and look pretty different as a result.

Just had to get this off my chest.

Photo Credit: Michael J. Rennie (PDF)

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25 Comments on "Nature Tops Nurture? Scientists Wrong Again…"

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Mike OD
8 years 7 months ago

I don’t know why people love the feeling of no control and everything is to blame on someone/something else. Weird “victim” mentality people grasp onto nowadays. Those damn genes, they wronged me!

Please….until people choose 100% control of their own health, they will never know what true health is. Too bad nothing in mainstream society provides that encouragement…including medicine.

Migraineur
8 years 7 months ago

Here’s a quick recap from high school bio:

1. Genes are little sequences of DNA.
2. DNA codes for the production of proteins.
3. Many of these proteins are enzymes.
4. Enzymes are catalysts for chemical reactions.
5. Chemical reactions are when two or more chemicals interact.
6. The chemicals in the body come from the environment – food and drink, air, and so forth.
7. Therefore, genes are ultimately expressed only if the environment favors them.

Scott Kustes
8 years 7 months ago
I concur. Our understanding and misunderstanding of genes is one of the most detrimental things that has happened in the health world. While it’s done good things in terms of understanding and fighting some diseases, it’s also put people into the victim role where they go “It’s in my genes, I might as well eat these Bon-bons and drink a gallon of Coke.” I think a lot of these “genetic” things are really learned behaviors that come from the mother. Tying into the epigenetics thing, it’s also a sure bet that insulin resistance and overconsumption of carbs in the mother… Read more »
Krissy
Krissy
3 years 9 months ago
I know this post is old. I just have to comment. Maybe you just meant how someone was raised versus “mother”. I don’t know, but I want to scream whenever people only blame the “mother”. I have a dramatic fight with my husband daily not to eat junk in front of our 2 year old and nearly everytime he is home he takes her to mcdonalds. My friends mother tried to raise him to be thin and told him saltines were “cookies”. Granted they aren’t good for you but it was the 80’s. His grandmother undermined her and loaded him… Read more »
Sasquatch
8 years 7 months ago

If anyone wants to see conclusive proof that the obesity epidemic is not genetic, go to

http://www.weight.com

and check out their figure.

Mike OD
8 years 7 months ago

Migraineur, great post! Exactly!

Or as I tell my clients…your genes are like a light switch (light=good, darkness=bad)…and it’s YOU (through nutrition, exercise, environment, lifestyle, etc) who determine which ones you flip on and off. (although everyone differs in how easily they can turn the switch on/off…it’s still under their control!)

Will
Will
8 years 7 months ago
What quantitative analyses and what variables does this new research address? There are so many factors involved, how do these quantitative analyses address the following: 1. Prenatal nutrition – if they’re twins, then they shared the same prenatal environment, regardless of if they’re monozygotic (identical) or dizygotic (fraternal). Prenatal nutrition is obviously out of the hands of the child, but is more due to mother’s choices of food than genetics. 2. Environment – how do the environments for these twins differ? is one twin active and the other sedentary? do their diets differ? My guess is that the environment between… Read more »
Sonagi
Sonagi
8 years 7 months ago

I shook my head when I read that misleading study yesterday. Even if one does not understand the science of gene expression, one need only look at old photos from decades past. Our genes haven’t changed much in the last century, but our diets and lifestyles sure have!

markus
markus
8 years 7 months ago
one important thing that gets lost in the genes debate is the fact that genetic variability is in fact a PRODUCT of evolutionary environmental interaction. Genetic variability, not genetic defects (except in rare mutations), is how we should be conceiving it. This obsession with genetic influence on disease is a product of the current paradigm which is led by pharmaceutical companies angling for a patented “treatment”. Conceived as genetic evolutionary heritage, genes can be seen as modifying factors in pathenogenesis. In that they influence the DEGREE to which we suffer from, in this case, a bad diet. In fact, all… Read more »
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[…] comes to the health of our seedlings (or any of us, for that matter)… Last week Mark offered commentary on an analysis of twins and childhood obesity published in the American Journal of Clinical […]

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[…] Mark’s Daily Apple, for example, where the Impressively Healthy hang out, they noted that there is still a big […]

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[…] Nature Tops Nurture? Scientists Wrong Again… […]

Swifty
Swifty
7 years 7 months ago

I think there is one point that probably needs to be said.

Being obees is genetic no doubt about it.

It loads + no exersize = get fat

It IS in are genes its just a shame the researches (sometimes) over look this small but very impotant formula!

Now I want geneticist to come up with a cure!

Then I can be a couch potatoe and eat McDonalds all the time. (and toffe popcorn)

Swifty
Swifty
7 years 7 months ago

Sorry I some how mispelt eat as It.

So i mean

Eat loads + no exersize = get fat

trackback

[…] between muscle mass and organ reserve, and the impact of lifestyle on both disease risk and gene expression. How do you like that for […]

Patri Friedman
Patri Friedman
7 years 2 months ago
The standard way to measure nature vs. nurture tells us how much variation in outcome comes from variation in genes vs. variation in environment. This means that it isn’t a fixed, objective number – it depends on how much variation in the environment there is. If everyone followed the same American diet and there was no Primal Blueprint, then heredity would be 100% – with no environmental variation, genes are all that is left. If the Primal Blueprint got really popular, so that many people had the standard American diet & exercise, but many people were Primal, that would *increase*… Read more »
Alyson
Alyson
7 years 2 months ago
Ug. I have had many conversations with friends about this subject, and all I have to say is: Please acknowledge that there are some people who do have genetic factors that will cause them to be overweight. Is that true for the majority of Americans? No(We’re talking 1 in a couple thousand). However, people who have these problems and the like should not have to listen (again) to how their excess weight is their own fault. Do you blame the cancer patient for losing weight during chemo? No. Don’t blame the people with true health issues. (Ok, this is usually… Read more »
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[…] Nature Tops Nurture? Scientists Wrong Again… – Feb. 8 […]

Drew
Drew
6 years 9 months ago

A truly well constructed study would have looked at identical twins that were separated at birth. Prenatal nutrition would be the same obviously, but the environmental factors would be much more varied, and would provide for more clear data. It seems ridiculous that they came to this conclusion with a study that had twins in similar environments, this study doesn’t really seem to prove anything.

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[…] article in Mark’s Daily Apple talks about your genetics and the role they play in your fitness. There […]

Jen
Jen
5 years 11 months ago

Anyone looking for an excuse to stay in their sedentary lifestyle and eating the same crap will find the data to back their beliefs up and vice versa. It all comes down to what they want to believe and they will find the “study/data” to prove they are “right” and anyone in opposition is “wrong”

Jeff
5 years 10 months ago

That side by side comparison is great. Sadly, most people choose to believe what comes easier, even though it’s not the best choice.

pina
5 years 10 days ago

Last year i received a 3 week menu from my nephew. i scan it and printed it. i now found the 3 wk starter diet. i can only find the first page. i know thzt their were 3 pages. the one i have starts off with breakfast, nuts vegetables and fruits. i do remember something about heavy whipping cream. cannot find that sheet. any way of finding this and emailing me??????????

Alex Good
Alex Good
4 years 7 months ago

Ewald looks like he never has a problem getting things off of his chest.

Amy
Amy
3 years 3 months ago
“Research on twins finds that weight is 77 percent attributable to genes.. Scientists wrong again.” Honestly, I’m really disappointed by the starting into to your post. It seems like you’ve jumped onto the “science is wrong” track, rather than saying “science is the process of learning the truth, and we haven’t finished yet.” I find this problematic, because the goal of “learning the truth” (in a reliable and useful way) is really helpful to (me/other-health-interested-people/humans-in-general). Second – the exact statement here might not read the way you’ve presented it to. Say: a human will never way as much as a… Read more »
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