Waiting for Dawn

Watching, Waiting, and Discerning Obesity Causes

The toughest question about obesity is also the simplest and most basic. Why do we have so much more of it now? In the spirit of H.L. Mencken, most people presume the answer is also simple. People are just eating too much, moving too little, and they should change their ways. Problem solved. But in fact, discerning the causes of rising obesity requires a lot more patience and careful observation.

Writing in Obesity, Barbara Corkey and Caroline Apovian take a long view on causes and potential solutions to the excess of obesity. The timing is good, because Corkey and a whole host of brilliant scientists will be examining this question for three days next week (Oct 17-19).

We’ve cleared our calendar for this and suggest  that you do the same if you want a deep dive into the best thinking possible for discerning the causes of obesity. The Royal Society, a fellowship of the world’s most eminent scientists, is sponsoring it.

Human Physiology and Evolution

Corkey and Apovian explain that food systems have evolved to efficiently produce food with sufficient caloric density and stability to feed billions of people on this planet. The physiology of people susceptible obesity causes them to store this abundant energy in adipose tissue. Thus, they say:

“The cause of obesity has as much to do with the human reaction to overfeeding as it does the production of foods that are being overfed.”

If this is evolution at work, then the folks who claim that they can reverse trends in obesity are likely overpromising, say Corkey and Apovian:

“Potential solutions to the obesity pandemic are beyond the purview of medical practice and the scope of what the public health community can accomplish.”

So much for the magical effectiveness of soda taxes.

Scientific Curiosity About Ways to Cope

This is why we’re clearing our schedule for the Royal Society’s event next week. The point is to thoughtfully explore theories, conjectures, and evidence about the causes of obesity. Some of the best scientists in the world will bring together some of the best possible thinking on this subject.

If we want to solve the problem of excess obesity it will help to first understand it.

Click here for the editorial by Corkey and Apovian and here to get the details and register for the Royal Society’s meeting.

Waiting for Dawn, painting by Hugo Simberg / WikiArt

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October 11, 2022