It’s More Complex than Overeating
October 2002

“It’s More Complex than Overeating,” Ensign, Oct. 2002, 60

It’s More Complex than Overeating

Why are people overweight? Most believe the cause is overeating. While it is true that you can’t gain weight from food you don’t eat, to claim that overeating is the sole cause of obesity is an oversimplification. In 1995 the Institute of Medicine reported that 59 percent of Americans were clinically obese (at least 20 percent over their ideal weight). Not surprisingly, then, research scientists who study obesity know that losing and maintaining body weight is a complex issue. Let me cite five research findings which indicate that obesity is not just lack of self-discipline in eating habits.

1 Many research studies suggest that obesity is capable of being inherited. For example, studies of adoptees show a strong correlation between their weight class—thin, medium weight, overweight, and obese—and that of their biological parents but little relation between their weight class and that of their adoptive parents.1

2 An early study showed that most obese people don’t eat more than those of normal weight2 and that many people of normal weight can eat excessive amounts of food without gaining weight.

3 Increase in obesity is probably linked to reduced levels of exercise. During the past decade, the caloric intake of people in the United Kingdom has slightly decreased, but the prevalence of obesity significantly increased.3

4 Various hormones affect body weight. For example, hormones have been identified that coordinate food digestion and satiety (feeling full) messages, stimulate fat intake and lower insulin levels, and stimulate carbohydrate craving. Variations in levels of activity of these hormones might play a role in obesity.4

5 Scientists have discovered genes that help regulate body weight. For example, in 1994, researchers discovered and cloned the so-called ob (obesity) gene from both mouse and human.5 This gene produces the protein leptin (from the Greek word for thin), which signals the brain to stop eating when fat reserves reach a certain level. Malfunction of leptin or its receptors could be a cause of obesity.

What does all this mean? It probably means that many of us are “pre-programmed” to be obese if we follow our typical cultural lifestyles. But it doesn’t mean we have to follow that lifestyle. We can manage our body weight with a program that includes (a) low-calorie meals focused on low-sugar, low-fat, high-nutrition foods; (b) aerobic (cardio) exercise, working up to at least 20 minutes and preferably 40 minutes per day, at least four days per week, of walking or other type of aerobic exercise; (c) strength training (for example, weight lifting two or three days per week, with at least a day of rest between each exercise session); (d) flexibility exercises (static stretching); and (e) behavioral modification and stress management, which involves attitude adjustments. Although such a program won’t ensure that all of us become slender, it will ensure that we maintain the best possible weight for our body type. A feeling of well-being can also come as a result of knowing that we are exercising control and discipline in caring for our bodies. Health rather than an unrealistic body size should serve as our motivation.

More on this topic: Mark J. Rowe, “I Have a Question,”Ensign, Feb. 1996, 64; Spencer J. Condie, “Agency: The Gift of Choices,”Ensign, Sept. 1995, 16; “Staying Healthy: Welfare Services Suggests How,”Ensign, Jan. 1981, 10; S. Scott Zimmerman, “Running Away from It All,”Ensign, Feb. 1981, 28; Lora Beth Larson, “The Do’s in the Word of Wisdom,”Ensign, Apr. 1977, 46; Lindsay R. Curtis, “I Have a Question,”Ensign, June 1975, 21–22; Ronald L. Rhodes, “Don’t Eat Your Heart Out,”Ensign, Oct. 1975, 72.


  1. A. J. Stunkard and others, “An Adoption Study of Human Obesity,” New England Journal of Medicine 314 (1986), 193–98.

  2. W. Reis, “Feeding Behaviour in Obesity,” Proceeding of the Nutrition Society 32 (1973), 187–93.

  3. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food, Annual Report on Food Expenditure, Consumption and Nutrient Intakes (London: The Stationery Office, 1998).

  4. See “A Full Plate: Researchers Attempt to Digest the Biochemistry of Obesity,” The Scientist, 16 Sept. 1996, 12–15.

  5. Y. Zhang and others, “Positional Cloning of the Mouse obese Gene and Its Human Homologue,” Nature 372 (1994), 425–31.

  • S. Scott Zimmerman is a member of the Heatheridge Fourth Ward, Orem Utah Heatheridge Stake.