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Explaining Obesity may not be Simple

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Researchers from University of Alabama at Birmingham are trying to unravel the mystery of why so many Americans are obese, and they're looking for culprits beyond inactivity and eating too much. They suggest the cause of obesity may not simple and come from several causes.

Obesity researcher David B. Allison, Ph.D looked at mammals for clues, collecting information from more than 20,000 animals. He started with marmosets from the Wisconsin Non-Human Primate Center, noting that many became obese over time with no plausible explanation. Continuing the investigation, Dr. Allison looked for previous studies on animals, collecting data sets on 12 groups - some were lab animals, others feral and other pets. He noted in 23 data sets of 24 collected that all of the animals became obese over time.

Overeating and Inactivity Fail to Explain Obesity in Study

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Allison says there was no common thread that could explain obesity. "The animals in some of the data sets might have had access to richer food, but that was not the case in all data sets. Some of the animals might have become less active, but others would have remained at normal activity levels. Yet, they all showed overall weight gain."

Study co-author Yann Klimentidis, Ph.D., a post-doctoral trainee in the School of Public Health explains many scientists are starting to question what is causing widespread obesity that doesn't seem to be explained by just availability and overconsumption of food and inactivity.

Some alternative reasons for obesity under scrutiny include light pollution, adenovirus (AD36) that correlated with obesity in humans and epigenetic changes brought about by environment. Klimentidis notes if scientists can find why animals become obese it could lead to ways to curb the obesity epidemic in humans. Scientists say explaining obesity may not be so simple.

Proc.R.Soc. B doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.1890