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If Obesity Is a Disease, What’s Causing It?

Newly published in Obesity Reviews, we have yet another declaration and description of obesity as a disease. For the World Obesity Federation, George Bray, Kyoung Kon Kim, and John Wilding authored a fine position statement declaring that obesity is a chronic, relapsing, progressive disease process. And they are pretty definitive about what’s causing it. Abundant, tasty food and declining physical activity, they say, are the “major drivers” causing obesity.

They describe a host of other factors as playing minor roles.

Presumptions and Facts About What’s Causing Obesity

Writing in the International Journal of Obesity, Jameson Voss presents a sharply contrasting view of what’s causing obesity:

In reality, there is no established consensus within the scientific literature about what caused the obesity epidemic, as shown in a recent umbrella review.

Although there are many people who have made claims about the food environment as the “major cause” of obesity, science is not based on suspicion or widespread belief; there need to be tests.

The notion that humans are maladapted for an abundant food supply is intuitively appealing. It’s a logical presumption. But close examination reveals that available evidence has neither confirmed nor disproved the food supply as the primary driver for the excess of obesity.

Perhaps more than tasty food, we crave simple models to explain the complex problem of obesity. But instead, we should be craving a more complete understanding of the problem. Until we have that understanding, efforts to solve the problem will likely continue to fail us.

Click here for the position paper by Bray et al and here for the commentary by Voss. For more on the gaps in evidence for food as the primary driver for the obesity epidemic, click here and here.

Driving Forward Motion, photograph © michael / flickr

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May 13, 2017