Multiple brand new studies have come out in the last several weeks that prove obesity is genetic in many people, but some members of the public refuse to accept the findings, and that could pose a big hurdle for scientists in continuing their research. Scientists in the field have been tirelessly laboring to prove the link between genes and obesity, and now their hard work is beginning to pay off. However, the public’s refusal to acknowledge that obesity is not the fault of the afflicted person is going to be very difficult to overcome.
A new study last week published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation showed that a common gene known as “FTO” is often mutated. When this mutation occurs, people feel much hungrier and crave fatty food at the same time. This week, a second study was published in the journal Science. That study showed that a different mutated gene is responsible for failing to burn calories at the same rate as those with the gene correctly in place. This means that even when eating the same amount of calories, the bodies of people with the mutated gene will not burn the same amount of calories at the same rate as those who have the gene intact.
These two new studies join a long line of studies that link obesity to genetics, but many people aren’t buying it. Comments under news articles include: “Blaming fatness on genetics is a lazy person excuse,” and “genes might play a part, but too often obese people look for an excuse for their weight. It just means they should try harder to stay in shape and not eat so much.”
A physician commenting under a story on CBS news said “It’s difficult to take care of patients who simply refuse to help themselves. When I tell them that their Back pain, high blood pressure, knee pain, and diabetes could be improved by diet and exercise, the excuse matrix begins.”
Commenter “William Passting,” in response to one of the articles about genetic causes of obesity, said “Just what we need, another excuse for someone to use as to why they are fat as they are downing another bucket of chicken.”
Commenter Donkat had this nugget of wisdom: “Of course it’s all hereditary!! If you’re lazy and don’t want to work, it’s in the JEANS. If you’d rather overeat and under exercise, it’s in the jeans. If you’d rather be a bleeding liberal without any logical sense of purpose, it’s in the jeans…Now days if I’m a couch potato it must be hereditary as my father and grandfather were couch potatos also. Six generations living off welfare! They like free handouts! Must be hereditary! It’s all a bunch of bull crap of justification trying to ligitimize behavior or conditions that might take alittle effort to change.” (sic)
Clearly, researchers are going to have a major battle with public opinion as they attempt to unravel the mystery of obesity. But why are people so apt to dismiss the evidence? Luckily, some scientists may have the answer. Multiple studies have shown that people rely on what’s called “motivated reasoning,” that is, their pre-existing beliefs shape the way they consider new evidence. In some people, their pre-existing beliefs are so strong, nothing can change them, not even reams of data. Emotion wins out over reason, and instead of thinking through the new evidence, people find it more comfortable to stay rooted in the familiar.
This can inhibit science in a number of ways, including the fact that pre-existing beliefs create an overall societal atmosphere of unpopularity for a particular subject. This can, in turn, build a culture where research on a particular topic is less likely to get funded. Persuading the public to get behind and back a research project can be next to impossible if no one thinks the outcomes of the project are valid.
Comment such as the ones above represent a tiny fraction of the thousands of comments, letters and blog posts online about how fat people are lazy, selfish pigs who seek excuses for their terrible behavior. One person even said that articles about the genetic research are “dangerous” because they “give people an excuse for being fat.” It appears it’s going to take researchers an enormous amount of time to turn these types of opinions into ones based on facts rather than emotions.
By: Rebecca Savastio
Source: Health and Times
Source: The Guardian Express
Source: New York Times
Source: Mother Jones