Background: New genetic associations with obesity are rapidly being discovered. People's causal beliefs about obesity may influence their obesity-related behaviors. Little is known about genetic compared to lifestyle causal beliefs regarding obesity, and obesity-related diseases, among minority populations. This study examined genetic and lifestyle causal beliefs about obesity and 3 obesity-related diseases among a low-income, ethnically diverse patient sample. Methods: Structured interviews were conducted with patients attending an inner-city hospital outpatient clinic. Participants (n = 205) were asked how much they agreed that genetics influence the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Similar questions were asked regarding lifestyle causal beliefs (overeating, eating certain types of food, chemicals in food, not exercising, smoking). In this study, 48% of participants were non-Hispanic Black, 29% Hispanic and 10% non-Hispanic White. Results: Over two-thirds (69%) of participants believed genetics cause obesity 'some' or 'a lot', compared to 82% for type 2 diabetes, 79% for heart disease and 75% for cancer. Participants who held genetic causal beliefs about obesity held more lifestyle causal beliefs in total than those who did not hold genetic causal beliefs about obesity (4.0 vs. 3.7 lifestyle causal beliefs, respectively, possible range 0-5, p = 0.025). There were few associations between causal beliefs and sociodemographic characteristics. Conclusions: Higher beliefs in genetic causation of obesity and related diseases are not automatically associated with decreased lifestyle beliefs. Future research efforts are needed to determine whether public health messages aimed at reducing obesity and its consequences in racially and ethnically diverse urban communities may benefit from incorporating an acknowledgement of the role of genetics in these conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-93
Number of pages11
JournalPublic Health Genomics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013


  • Attitudes
  • Behavior
  • Causal beliefs
  • Community genetics
  • Complex diseases
  • Diet
  • Exercise
  • Genomics
  • Obesity
  • Translational research


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