Life Experiences, Evidence, Theories, and Conjectures on Obesity

Fruit of Long ExperienceFive years ago, Faith Ann Heeren brought her life experiences to YWM2018 in Denver. Now, as a PhD candidate at the University of Florida College of Medicine, she is the lead author on one in a collection of papers from last summer’s outstanding program on causes of obesity at the Royal Society in London. Life experiences inform our consideration of evidence, theories, and conjectures about the causes of obesity.

Systems Rather Than Silos

Heeren, along with Valerie Darcey and their co-authors, identified a consensus from the meeting that ascribing the cause of obesity to a single factor – especially to a deficit of “willpower” – is incorrect. Nor is the false dichotomy that pits environmental factors (e.g. ultra-processed foods) against biological factors helpful. Too much pontification about the causes of obesity comes from one or the other of these two silos of thinking about the problem. So Heeren et al conclude that a more systematic approach is necessary to integrate knowledge of individual biological susceptibility with better research on environmental drivers :

“Obesity is the result of interactions between individual and environmental-level contributors, and research into these complexities are lagging investments in basic biology. Although knowledge on the individual-level contributors provides helpful insights, to effectively reduce the incidence of obesity, addressing the environmental context is ultimately required.”

The Central Role of Scientific Rigor

To introduce the papers that come from their meeting at the Royal Society, David Allison, Thorkild Sørensen, Kevin Hall, and John Speakman describe the role for theories, conjectures, and evidence in understanding the causes of obesity. They rightly point to the central role for scientific rigor:

“Unlike other diseases, obesity and its purported causes are closely related to personal anecdotal experiences with eating, nutrition, exercise, and body habitus. Thus, anecdotal experiences often replace expertise, evidence, or the product of deep study. Which of us would opine without careful study on the cause of atrial fibrillation, beta cell dysfunction, et cetera?”

Life experiences can inform our pursuit of a scientific understanding of obesity. But they are no substitute for curiosity, rigor, and objectivity.

Click here for all of the papers in part one of publications from this landmark conference.

Fruit of Long Experience, dimensional art by Max Ernst / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


July 27, 2023

2 Responses to “Life Experiences, Evidence, Theories, and Conjectures on Obesity”

  1. July 27, 2023 at 7:40 am, Beverly Lynn said:

    As a 64 yr old woman who has been challenged with the struggle with food, weight, obesity, and yo yo dieting since I was 12 yr old (when I WASN’T obese or overweight, but was told I was), I came to this conclusion that the cause of obesity was multifactorial in college without all this scientific knowledge. I’m glad science is catching up with more empirical facts. Now, I wish Physicians would catch up.

    • July 27, 2023 at 7:50 am, Ted said:

      Amen, Beverly.