In a 2000 review in Nature, Barry Levin suggested that the "obesity epidemic" in the developed world might be more complicated than "increased food intake or decreased energy expenditure". Levin's review suggested that genetic predisposition towards obesity might spiral upward through generations in what he terms "metabolic imprinting."
Last summer, several studies attempted to demonstrate this link. Aagaard-Tillery et al (2008) found that macaques who ate a high fat diet during pregnancy tended to have heavier children, even if they themselves did not become obese. Waterland et al (2008), using mice, suggested that a genetic tendency towards obesity grows worse over successive generations. However, Lawlor et al (2008) looked at human data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children and found that the difference between maternal and paternal contributions to children's obesity was not significantly different, calling into question the maternal "overnutrition" theory.
Sociologists Kwan and Trautner (2009) call into question the entire framing of the "obesity epidemic" by pointing out the trend toward medicalization and pointing out that the epidemic can be framed as a "moral panic" which preferentially targets women.
I think we can agree that women are under more social pressure about their weight than men (e.g. 4/10/08, 1/22/07), and as previously discussed, women may be more susceptible to social pressure than men (e.g. 3/10/09, 2/26/09). The idea of a "moral panic" and the focus on maternal obesity brought this into a pretty sharp perspective for me this morning: my emotional reaction was that these studies were blaming mothers for their children's obesity. "Not only are you a failure as a woman for being fat, but you are a failure as a mother because you made your child fat." I'm finding myself surprisingly pissed off about it. The fact that Lawlor's study seems to be the only one looking at paternal genetic contributions to obesity is shocking, but probably shouldn't be.
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