The ‘good genes’ argument is false


TEN DAYS AGO, the results of President Trump’s first full physical by White House doctors made for guaranteed headlines. Despite his exercise being restricted to the golf course, and following a diet that reportedly includes a regular McDonald’s order of two Big Macs, two Filet-o-Fish and a chocolate milkshake, the Commander-in-Chief was described by Navy Rear Admiral Dr. Ronny Jackson as in ‘excellent health’. ‘He has incredibly good genes,’ Jackson added. ‘It’s just the way God made him.’

You often hear people talk about how they can eat what they want because they have a ‘fast metabolism’, or because ‘they don’t really gain weight’. It’s just one of the ways that we in the West delude ourselves about our health. Far too many of us focus on examples of people who are healthy when they shouldn’t be, to justify our own bad habits. We tell ourselves that it’s OK not to exercise, to eat badly or over consume alcohol because we read isolated examples of people who got away with it.

Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman who lived until the age of 122, smoked cigarettes from the age of 21 until she was 114. But modern science tells us that for the overwhelming majority of people, cigarettes are likely to lead to heart disease, lung cancer and other serious illnesses. Agnes Fenton, from New Jersey, swore that drinking Miller High Life and Johnnie Walker Blue Label daily helped her to live until she was 112. But for most people, excessive alcohol leads to numerous health issues including high blood pressure and lower cognitive function.

Nobody wants to be considered ‘average’ but, by definition, most people are. Therefore, they are at risk of gaining weight and developing conditions like diabetes if they eat poorly and fail to exercise. Most people who follow the President’s diet long term would put their health at risk. In a country where obesity is at its highest level ever, it’s vitally important not to kid ourselves that we can eat and drink as much as we like with no consequences. Already, close to 40% of Americans are obese. The average woman in the United States today weighs 168lbs, or the same as an average man did in 1960. Since 1961, men on average have gained 30lbs. This has led to enormous medical costs, poor productivity and, for the individuals, a range of very serious health conditions, such as type-2 diabetes.

It goes without saying that this has economic as well as physical implications. Studies going back to 2011 have predicted a huge rise in the number of obese people in America over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of obese Americans is at 36.5 per cent. It contributes to some of the leading causes of death in this country, such as diabetes. And it costs the country upwards of $150 billion each year.

While we could introduce policies to mitigate this, the ultimate responsibility for health is personal. We can no longer afford to deliberately mislead ourselves by thinking we’re part of a select few who are immune from health problems. This is a cautionary tale. It’s always dangerous to fixate on the exceptions to the rule, rather than the rule itself. For the majority of people, stick to the basics: eat healthy food, get enough sleep and exercise.

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