Special Report

16 Common Myths About Obesity That Need to Go Away

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Myth No. 11: Obesity causes diabetes

It is true that excess weight increases the risk of developing diabetes. However, many people who are overweight or obese never develop diabetes. And many people who are thin have high blood sugar levels.

There is even a name for the condition in which people with normal weight don’t produce enough insulin or the body does not respond well to it — lean diabetes. Though it is not very well understood yet, doctors think lean diabetes is a kind of Type 2 diabetes.

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Myth No. 12: If close relatives are obese, I will be too

The relationship between obesity and genetics is complex. Understanding the role of genes in obesity is a fairly new field. Recent studies have found that certain genes associated with obesity contribute only slightly to the higher obesity risk. According to the CDC, “no single genetic cause can be identified” in most obese people.

However, according to a 2011 study of more than 218,000 adults, one specific gene linked to obesity — a variant of a gene called FTO — is associated with a 20% to 30% increased chance of obesity. A review and meta-analysis of the FTO gene variant found that people who have it “respond equally well to dietary, physical activity, or drug based weight loss interventions and thus genetic predisposition to obesity associated with the FTO minor allele can be at least partly counteracted through such interventions.”

Myth No. 13: Obesity is only a problem in rich countries

More than 2 billion people around the world were classified as overweight or obese in 2016, and about 75% of them lived in low- or middle-income countries, according to the World Bank.

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Myth No. 14: Obesity is a problem only for adults

Early childhood is a period of rapid growth and therefore many people assume that young children who have extra fat would eventually lose it. But children don’t necessarily outgrow obesity or being overweight. They can’t just eat anything and recover. A 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 5-year-olds who carry extra weight were four times as likely to be obese at 14 compared to their peers with normal weight. Of the children who became obese between the ages of 5 and 14, nearly half were overweight in kindergarten.

Overweight and obese adolescents are more likely to have a range of health issues, just like adults. In a study of almost 500 school students aged 15 years, overweight or obese boys were more likely to have a chronic condition such as elevated blood pressure and cholesterol and abnormal levels of insulin (suggesting a form of pre-diabetes) than boys whose weight was in the healthy range.

About 19.3% of children ages 2-19 in the U.S. were classified as obese in 2018, according to the CDC. A decade earlier, 16.9% of children in that age group were considered obese.

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Myth No. 15. You gain weight because of slow metabolism

Metabolism is the process by which the body converts food into energy. What influences metabolism is body size and composition. Being fit and having more lean muscle tissue is one way to speed up metabolism. The fitter you are, the more lean muscle you have, resulting in more calories being burned both at rest and while exercising.

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