Individuals struggling with weight gain may be interested in a new study that suggests obesity is a transgenerational trait. Florence Massiera, of the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis in France, and her colleagues, performed a study that demonstrated the risk of obesity in association with diet and family history. Massiera’s study focused on the health implications of following a so-called “Western diet,” which contains a higher percentage of fat than non-western diets–particularly omega-6 fats. While polyunsaturated fats such as omega 3 fats and omega 6 fats are both considered essential for brain development and growth, excessive intake of omega-6 fats in particular can increase inflammation in the body and contribute to obesity and related inflammatory conditions.
Food sources of omega-6 fats, particularly in the western diet, include red meat, and vegetable oils such as corn oil, palm oil, soybean oil and safflower oil–and any foods made from them (e.g., margarine), baked from them (commerical pastries and baked goods), or fried using them (e.g., fast food). Food sources of omega-3 fats include fatty fish, fish oil, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds/flaxseed oil, hemp-based foods (such as Hemp Milk), purslane and other green leafy vegetables. Experts believe that the ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats in the diet is about 3:1 or 4:1. In reality, the typical Western-style diet contains a ratio of about 10:1 to 20:1.
Massiera’s research subjects consisted of a mice colony that was either placed on a high omega 6 fat diet or a low omega 6 fat diet. The subjects were bred randomly to simulate the random partnering of human populations. The next generation was then fed according to a high omega 6 fat or low omega 6 fat diet and mated randomly; this process occurred for five generations. According to the results, mice fed the high omega 6 fat diet gained and maintained a higher weight than mice on the low omega 6 fat diet. Furthermore, descending generations of mice fed the high omega 6 fat diet became increasingly more prone to obesity, especially if they maintained a similar high-omega 6 fat diet. The later generations also developed a form of insulin resistance, which if left untreated, tends to lead to diabetes.
While the results from lab studies in mice cannot be automatically extrapolated to humans, such studies do offer some insight into possible implications for people, particularly since humans and mice have similar DNA. It is possible, then, that the increasing prevalence of obesity among children and young adults observed in Western societies may be at least partially accounted for by the same conditions as created in this study. Children of obese adults could be genetically predisposed to become obese themselves, particularly when exposed to a Western-style diet excessively high in fat. However, genetic predispositions don’t dictate outcomes, and they CAN be overcome by environmental factors such as diet and exercise.
For example, following a healthy diet—such as the Mediterranean-style diet, which is rich in Omega-3 fats and limits the amount of omega 6 fats, can help predisposed individuals control their weight. A consistent exercise plan can also aid in weight management.
Before introducing any drastic changes in your lifestyle, consult a nutritionist or doctor to determine the best option for you.