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  • Rights: The University of Waikato
    Published 28 June 2011 Referencing Hub media

    Your weight is influenced by many factors. Associate Professor Rachael Taylor, from the University of Otago, is interested in the role of environmental factors including food, sugary drinks and activity level.

    Point of interest:
    What do you think Rachael means when she talks about the optimist and pessimist view of the role of genetics in obesity


    So obesity really simply refers to having too much body fat for your particular weight or height. Obesity is incredibly multifactorial, and the bottom line is we are never going to find a magic bullet that will cure obesity.

    And lots and lots of different things affect obesity. You can blame your mum and dad for about 40% of the issues, so genetics is all about 40%, and then the environment – how you live – is the rest of it and obviously what food you eat and how much food you eat and all sorts of individual things in that have been proposed – things like too much sugary drinks, not enough fruit and vegetables, too much dietary fat, and then there is how much energy you burn off.

    And the main thing you can control of course is your physical activity, so the areas of interest there are things like television viewing, computer use, PlayStation, work activity or your school-based activity, what sports you play, what sort of other activities you might do and so on.

    So your genes affect your weight, but they can’t explain how the increase in the prevalence of obesity has increased so much over the last generation or so. That’s really where our interest comes from, you know, you can’t change those genes, you can only change your environment.

    I think you can view the whole genetics environmental thing as an optimist or a pessimist really. I mean a pessimist would say, “Well, I haven’t got any control. My mum and dad made me this way.” And it’s true to a certain extent. There are people who have a harder road because their genes make them a wee bit bigger or influence them to put on weight a little bit more easily. But the positive view is the fact that anybody can actually change their weight to some degree, because all of those environmental things, even if you got the worst genes possible from mum and dad, you still could, with some help, with the willpower and things like that, actually change what you eat and how you are active.

    New Zealand Ministry of Education

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