Causes of obesity: theories, conjectures and evidence

This is a scientific discussion meeting organised by Professor John R Speakman FMedSci FRS, Professor Thorkild IA Sørensen, Dr Kevin D Hall and Professor David B Allison.

Obesity has been described by the WHO as the largest health threat facing mankind. Obesity is manifestly an issue of energy balance. Yet, there is surprisingly little consensus about why such energy imbalance develops. This meeting will include presentations by world experts on the plethora of ideas about the mechanisms underlying obesity, and hence how we may tackle it.

The schedule of talks and speaker biographies are available here. Meeting papers will be published in a future issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

Attending this event

This meeting is intended for researchers in relevant fields.

  • Free to attend
  • Both in person and online attendance will be available
  • Limited places, advance registration essential

Enquiries: contact the Scientific Programmes team

Stanley Ulijaszek, 19 October, 11: 30 Obesity and environments external to the body

Studies of environment and obesity usually use epidemiologically-tractable measures that are proxies for energy balance measures of intake and expenditure, including access to physical activity resources, walkability of neighbourhoods, geographic areas and access to healthy food. It is mostly to identify individual behavioural changes to prevent or reduce obesity rates, or to inform policy. Alternatively, environment and obesity research focusses on individual food consumption, the brain and the regulation of energy balance, usually with implicit goals of individual behavioural or biomedical interventions. Social, political and technological change has disrupted many of the traditional approaches to obesity and environment. Such change includes: new knowledge of how human microbiomes form an environment straddling the body internal and external; epigenetics that frame the foetus within an internal maternal bodily environment; the new sociality that Web 2.0 has created; and near-universal neoliberal political systems that promote individualism and competition but also generate increasing inequality, insecurity and stress. There are new environmental ways to produce obesity and to ameliorate it. This presentation examines the construct of ‘environment’, a western nineteenth century romantic individualist idea of humans in nature, in relation to obesity studies in the twenty-first century when most people in the world live in built contexts. It examines disruptions in environments external to the body (that is not the microbiome, not epigenetics) in relation to obesity production, focusing on built, food and social environments and their intersections.a