Do Genes Make You Fat?

ObeseFamilyCartoonDear Davey,

Most of the people in my family are overweight or obese. When I look at my relatives, I can’t help but think that there must be a genetic component to me being overweight. Is it possible that I’m just genetically destined to be fat?


Hey Chris,

Thanks for the honest question.

economix-23OECDobesity-custom1Over the last several decades, obesity rates in this country – and many others – have risen dramatically (see chart). Clearly, this huge increase can’t be explained entirely by genetics.

As I’ve said before, weight loss, gain or maintenance is determined by calories in and calories out. If we take in fewer calories than we burn, we lose weight. If we take in more calories than we burn, we gain weight. And if we take in the same amount of calories that we burn, we’re in a neutral state of maintenance.

Though our genes may have some influence on our predisposition to obesity, all of us can manipulate both ends of the calories in/calories out equation to reach a healthier weight. On the “calories in” side of the equation, it means eating healthy, clean and nourishing foods in appropriate quantities. On the “calories out” side of the equation, we need to move more and get active. To make weight loss happen, the caloric total of the foods we eat must be less than the total calories burned.

Clearly, this is a vast oversimplification of the process – and, indeed, there are many other factors involved in weight loss. Some of these factors are emotional and psychological – and some of them can be difficult to deal with.

But to answer your question, the Harvard School of Public Health notes that:

Only a very small percentage of people have such a strong genetic predisposition that they will be obese no matter how hard they try. Even people who are genetically predisposed to obesity can reduce their risk of chronic disease by eating a healthful diet and staying active.

In my humble opinion, it’s far more likely that your relatives are similarly overweight because they’ve adopted similar habits. We know that obesity is contagious; a study by Harvard researchers found that “having four obese friends doubled people’s chance of becoming obese compared to people with no obese friends,” and that the more obese people you come into contact with, the more your risk for obesity increases.

In other words, we tend to pick up the habits of the people around us.


About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.


  1. I’ve always wondered the same thing. I have been overweight/obese for most of my life. My two sisters, my dad, my mom, aunts, uncles, cousins were and still are obese. I tipped the scale at 280 last year. I simply thought I was going to remain obese my entire life, There is a lot of misleading information out there, and if you’re unable to recognize fact from fiction, you’ll end up in a never ending cycle of gaining back the weight you lose.

    Today I weigh 210. I have certainly tried everything there is except for diet pills. Those have always seemed silly to me. What has helped me most is adding vegetables to my diet. I always thought it was calories that made you full. I’ve learned, however, that that is simply untrue. A handful of steak will fill you up as much as a handful of spinach. The spinach will have about 40 calories and the steak will have around 400. Adding vegetables to your diet is the best way to cut calories in.

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