Study Confirms Genetic Link in BMI As Global Obesity Reaches Alarming Levels

A new study presented at the European Congress on Obesity suggests that middle-aged people are significantly more likely to become obese if one or both of their parents were overweight during that life stage. The research, led by Mari Mikkelsen from the Arctic University of Norway, analyzed data from over 2,000 parent-offspring pairs participating in the Tromso Study.

Study’s main points

Key findings of the study include:

  • Offspring BMI was directly influenced by their parents’ BMI.
  • A mother’s obesity increased the risk of middle-aged obesity by 3.4 times, while an obese father raised the risk by 3.7 times.
  • If both parents were obese, the likelihood of middle-aged obesity was six times higher.

More than just genetics

Mikkelsen explained the reason behind the study and commented on its main finding:

Obesity in childhood, and especially in adolescence, tends to follow the individual into early adulthood, and so we suspected it would also follow them into middle age… We found that this is indeed the case — children whose parents lived with obesity are much more likely to be in living with obesity themselves when they are in their 40s and 50s, long after they have left home.

Most likely, a combination of genetics and environment causes a parent’s weight to affect the subsequent weight of their kids, Mikkelsen said:

Genes play an important role by affecting our susceptibility to weight gain and influence how we respond to obesogenic environments in which it can be easy to eat unhealthily… Some studies also speculate that children tend to develop similar dietary and exercise habits to their parents when they all live together under the same roof, resulting in a similar BMI status.

WHO releases update on obesity and overweight numbers

In other news, the World Health Organization (WHO) just updated its statistics and initiatives status for March 2024. Here are some troubling facts:

In 2022, global rates of obesity and overweight reached alarming levels:

  • 1 in 8 people worldwide were living with obesity, with adult obesity doubling since 1990 and adolescent obesity quadrupling.
  • 5 billion adults were overweight, with 890 million of them living with obesity. This represented 43% of adults globally, with significant regional variations.
  • 37 million children under 5 and over 390 million aged 5-19 were overweight, with prevalence increasing particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
  • The prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents has risen dramatically since 1990, affecting 20% of this age group globally by 2022.

As a reminder, the definition of overweight and obesity varies by age and gender, with specific criteria provided by the WHO for children under 5 and children aged 5-19. Another reminder is the numbers above, that more research, an organized approach, and more involvement from all levels (from home to medical professionals and government organizations) are needed. We must keep fighting the fight.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Obesity and overweight,” WHO, March 2024
Source: Odds of obesity derived from parents, study finds,”, 3/8/24
Image by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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