The Science News Science Stats left me dumbfounded, so I read it again… I’m still dumbfounded. Does it really say, “… calorie intake may be the bigger contributor to Western obesity”? What are they thinking? What else causes obesity?
I have noticed over the years, a growing effort to find genetic causes for why some people get fat easier than others. Certainly, in the end, every facet of our lives has a genetic basis. What I detect however, is a trend to single out genetics in particular as a major reason for obesity (1).
Why Not ‘Just Say No’?
Highlighting genetics as a major reason for obesity conveniently circumvents addressing the free will ‘just say no’ dogma. Perhaps challenging the free will myth directly is too risky, culturally speaking. Truth is, genetics and circumstances pretty much account for every aspect of human nature, or at least the observable tangible ones.
My response to the obesity issue has often been, “Just go to Ethiopia, and see how many fat people you see”. In all my travels, I only saw obese people aplenty in wealthy, well-fed countries. Simply put, the amount you eat will make you fat if that consumption exceeds the calories you burn. Is this not simply biology? When the energy in exceeds energy out, it gets stored as fat. Some people burn more energy (higher metabolic rate) than others do, and so they can eat more without gaining weight. Others are simply taking in more than their body needs and thus storing the excess as fat… for a rainy day that never comes now.
Getting older has a sure-fire effect on one’s metabolic rate. That is nature’s safeguard in the wild; an older animal can’t hunt or gather as vigorously as a younger one, so nature lowers their metabolism, which lowers their daily caloric requirement. That is great if you’re living in the wild, but problematic for anyone living in the affluent circumstances of civilization.
Yes, It is Genetic
We are not different from other animals in regards to eating tasty food. When dairy cows are given unbridled access to rich tasty feed (alfalfa, sorghum) they will eat continuously until it kills them. Grazing in the wild is self-limiting in natural ways so they never over eat. Cows did not evolve to eat such rich food. Likewise, we did not evolve to eat nor have access to the rich food we consume now.
Food is a business. Sellers are motivated to make their offering as rich and tasty as possible. Buyers, having evolved no natural restraints to rich and tasty foods, easily over eat if they have money and access. Indeed, in the wild, our innate drive to eat as much rich and tasty food as we can find, is a survival necessity. We still have that instinct; only the circumstances have changed. Now we too can actually eat until it kills us.
The Farce of Free Will
It is ironic that we maintain the myth of free will in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. I now see the ideal of free will (p.587) as wishful thinking, which helps support the ‘they should’ emotions that we feel. Our ability to imagine ourselves, and especially others, able to decide and just say “No” overwhelms empirical observation. We are in denial as a species. Naturally, this is also genetic.
(1) I balk at the victim aspect of this genetic reasoning, especially as we are so unwilling to concede that we are instinct driven animals, with genetics and circumstances accounting for everything we do — good or evil. So far, such rigorous self-honesty eludes us; double standards rule our day. As the Tao Te Ching says, When cleverness emerges there is great hypocrisy (D.C. Lau) and When intelligence increases, there is great falseness (Word for Word). Our clever intelligence enables us to deftly circumvent and deny reality!