Fiddlehead Question

The Endocrine Society: Honestly Seeking Answers About Obesity

Obesity rates started soaring almost four decades ago. Multiple presidents and surgeons general have called for action to address it. You might think we would have an answer by now to the most basic question: why? But we don’t. And this week, the Endocrine Society presented the facts in a scientific statement. It calls for a deeper commitment to seeking answers about obesity and its root causes.

Presumptions Are Not Good Enough

Food is the primary agent causing the disease of obesity, said the World Obesity Federation in a recent position statement. It concedes that other factors may play a role. But it insists that the primary problem lies with the food supply. We have too much food with high energy density, laden with fat and sugar.

Unfortunately, the facts are not cooperating with this simple assessment.

The Endocrine Society does a fine job in its scientific statement, pointing out that our knowledge of how obesity develops is not nearly so definitive:

Unlike most other endocrine disorders, we have a very limited understanding of its [obesity’s] pathogenesis, despite decades of research and billions of dollars spent each year on its treatment.

The authors, led by Michael Schwartz, provide a rather complete accounting of the current state of knowledge about the roots of obesity. They focus upon the core problem: how the body regulates fat mass and how that process gets disrupted.

Many Factors Beyond Food and Physical Activity

Many environmental factors contribute to disrupting this essential process for storing energy to survive. Diet plays a role. So does physical activity. And so does a whole range of environmental factors ranging from pollution to social and economic stressors. But the fact remains that the precise causes for obesity and its rising prevalence remain unknown.

So while we take prudent steps to promote good nutrition and physical activity, we should not fool ourselves. Those efforts, by themselves have done little, or perhaps nothing, to reduce the burden of obesity. Before we can have a real impact, we need a better understanding of what causes obesity.

Kudos to the Endocrine Society for leadership in calling for needed research – for honestly seeking answers about obesity. It’s the only path for finding real solutions.

Click here for the scientific statement and here for more from MedicalXpress.

Fiddlehead Question, photograph © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Northeast Region / flickr

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June 28, 2017

3 Responses to “The Endocrine Society: Honestly Seeking Answers About Obesity”

  1. June 28, 2017 at 8:22 am, Gail Kaye said:

    It appears to me that this post is sensationalizing the difference between the two position statements, suggesting they are diametrically opposed. There is actually more agreement in what they are saying versus difference. For example, please note the following:

    An abundance of food, low physical activity and
    several other environmental factors interact with the genetic susceptibility of the host to produce positive energy balance. (WHO)

    ongoing study of how genetic, developmental, and environmental forces affect the energy homeostasis system will help us better understand these mechanisms (Endocrine Society)

    Let’s use critical thinking to create productive solutions vs sensationalizing difference to create news. Thank you

    • June 28, 2017 at 11:30 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Gail, for sharing your perspective. I agree that these two statements reflect some of the same information.

      However, the World Obesity Federation statement unequivocally states “Food is the primary agent.” That statement is up front in the summary, and the paper emphasizes this point.

      In contrast, the Endocrine Society statement emphasizes the multifactorial nature of obesity and the limits of current knowledge about its pathogenesis. The difference in emphasis and certainty about the role of food is important.

  2. June 28, 2017 at 7:27 pm, Michael said:

    Two quotes spring to mind:

    “Obesity is caused by predisposed people responding normally to an abnormal environment” and “If you’re not going to change the environment, then stop annoying the organism responding normally to it”.

    Humans (especially the ‘successful’ ones responsible for regulating the quality of our environment) don’t like the idea that the power of free-will against obesity is overrated. Can they “handle the truth”?