The fight against obesity is an ever-growing challenge in our society, but researchers are having trouble pinpointing the cause.

On April 16th, Douglas L. Coleman, one of the first supporters of genetic obesity, passed away. Coleman spent his life studying what makes certain mice obese and diabetic while other mice remain healthy despite a similar diet. In the 1990s his research culminated to the conclusion that a lack of the hormone leptin in the bloodstream led to obesity in both mice and humans. When fat cells build up in the body, they excrete leptin which helps the brain “feel” full. With this conclusion, Coleman made the claim that leptin deficiency will lead to obesity.

Interestingly enough, before his passing, Coleman found that there was in fact a small population of obese people with a leptin deficiency who he was able to treat and make thinner. On the other hand, most obese people have high levels of leptin in their blood, but for some reason are completely resistant to the “full” feeling that it creates.

Coleman’s research dominantly shows that leptin curbs hunger, but why are some people resistant? Current research is beginning to show that high levels of fructose may counteract the effects of leptin.

Although obesity may be genetic, what role do we have play in it? How much control do we have? How might this relate to the epigenome?


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Comments (5)

  1. Reply

    It is interesting to see that there are characteristics in our genetics that can predispose us to obesity. Especially in that this disposition differs fundamentally from most other negative behaviors. A family with a history of alcoholism or drug addiction, even cancer, can alter their behaviors to mitigate their risks of falling to their weaknesses. Most effectively, they can cut out entirely behaviors that would initiate an addiction or negative pattern of behavior. People with this leptin deficiency it seems have no such luxury. That which perpetuates their problem, eating, is what is required to sustain them. It is the equivalent of asking a drug addict to snort just a small dusting of cocaine each day and no more. The wretched torment off such a prospect is evident, and it is no wonder obesity flourishes in the US.

  2. Conrad Nicoll


    I have always been very thin and never had to fight with obesity. At times I have considered this to be due to the genes I inherited from my parents, but I also realize that personally I have lived a relatively healthy lifestyle. I was always encouraged to participate in sports and be active, an excess of junk food was not found in my pantry growing up, and going out to eat big meals was not a custom in my family. I am no expert in genetics, but I imagine that my genes form only part of the equation, while my personal choices to create a healthier environment.

    While I understand that not having low leptin levels and not being able to feel ‘full’ gives a person a disadvantage, that should not be an excuse to continue eating. With all the information we have about foods and proper dieting, we don’t need to fell full to know that we have eaten enough. It is more of an issue of self control than anything else. We can’t blame genetics on every problem we have, rather we must accept our initial conditions and create the environment that we can thrive in and reach our potential.

  3. Henry


    I work in a genetics research lab and so this was pretty interesting to read about. Genetics definitely sets up certain people have certain advantages/disadvantages in any given situation, but I like to think those are only the initial conditions and we can do whatever we want to alter the environment around us (though it can be harder for some than others). Something really poignant my PI said was after we got a grant to look into the genetics of addiction and he commented “Seems like everyone is trying to find a genetic basis for all the problems in their life.” Just a passing comment, but I think there is truth to that statement.

  4. Jennifer Cardoza


    I believe that obesity is only genetic to a certain point. I’ve noticed that many families who have obese parents end up raising obese children. I believe that in the situations where there isn’t a genetic component, such as problems with leptin levels, it is an environmental issue. The children are raised to only know high-caloric, high-fat, high-sodium foods that inhibit health. Beyond genetic set-backs, I believe obesity is absolutely a choice and a product of environment. If you don’t want to be obese, then remove yourself from that environment.

  5. Ethan


    This is an interesting post. I feel since we have control over our environment and who we are, people who are obese, choose to be this way, whether or not it seems as if they enjoy or despise being that way. People are who they are. If someone really wanted to take control over their life, predisposed genetically to obesity or not, than they could and make changes accordingly.

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