Economic conditions may trump genetics when battling obesity

October 23, 2012 by Zeke Barlow
George Davis and Deborah Good work in the laboratory where they found that economic conditions can play a more important role than genetics when it comes to making healthy food choices.

In a first of its kind study that shows environmental conditions can be more influential than genetics, Virginia Tech researchers have found that the cost of food  — not someone's genetic makeup—is a major factor in eating fattening food.

The study, which was recently published in The Open Journal, suggests that economic environments could be altered to help counteract the plaguing more than one-third of Americans.

In the U.S. over the last 30 years, the price of fattening food has declined compared to , while increased. This research suggests that if fattening foods cost more or were taxed, people would be less likely to eat them.

"This study shows that the current low costs of high-fat foods only exacerbates the obesity epidemic, even among those individuals who might not otherwise be prone to obesity, " said George Davis, a professor of agricultural and applied economics and health, nutrition, foods and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"People may think that if they are genetically geared toward being obese that they may not be able to do anything about it," said Deborah Good, a and associate professor of , foods and exercise. "These data suggest that environmental conditions are as important as genetic make-up."

Their 18-month study used two groups of mice: one that had the Tub gene—which leads to adult-onset obesity—and a group that did not. The mice had two different levers to push to make food drop—one which released fatty food, another which produced more healthy food.

Over time, the researchers decreased the number of pushes required for the mice to get the , making it "cheaper." The healthy food stayed the same cost.

Both sets of mice reacted similarly and put on weight. It suggests that the economic environment is just as important as genetic make-up when it comes to how much people will eat and the weight they put on.

The results illustrate that even people who might otherwise eat healthy will eat poorly if the food is cheaper. If the price of fattening foods were higher, people would be less likely to eat poorly, Davis said. Government legislation or economic incentives such as a "fat tax" could be strong tools to counteract obesity, Davis said.

"People get the impression that if something is in their genes, there is nothing they can do about it," Davis said. "This gives us hope that people who are predisposed to certain types of behavior can overcome those impulses by using economic incentives."

Explore further: Food Costs Soar but Healthy Eating still Affordable

More information: benthamscience.com/open/toneuroej/articles/V005/13TONEUROEJ.pdf

Related Stories

'Junk food' moms have 'junk food' babies

March 23, 2011

A new research report published online in The FASEB Journal suggests that pregnant mothers who eat high sugar and high fat diets have babies who are likely to become junk food junkies themselves. According to the report, ...

Brain mechanisms link foods to rising obesity rates

February 7, 2012

An editorial authored by University of Cincinnati (UC) diabetes researchers to be published in the Feb. 7, 2012, issue of the journal Cell Metabolism sheds light on the biological factors contributing to rising rates of obesity ...

Healthy eating can cost less, study finds

May 16, 2012

Is it really more expensive to eat healthy? An Agriculture Department study released Wednesday found that most fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods cost less than foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

Recommended for you

More evidence that 'healthy obesity' may be a myth

August 18, 2016

The term "healthy obesity" has gained traction over the past 15 years, but scientists have recently questioned its very existence. A study published August 18 in Cell Reports provides further evidence against the notion of ...

A metabolic master switch underlying human obesity

August 19, 2015

Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century. Affecting more than 500 million people worldwide, obesity costs at least $200 billion each year in the United States alone, and contributes to potentially ...

Scientists probe obesity's ties to breast cancer risk

August 20, 2015

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer, but researchers haven't figured out what connects the two. A new study suggests the link may be due to a change in breast tissue structure, which might promote breast ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.