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Minerva Gastroenterol Dietol. 2004 Jun;50(2):171-7.

Obesity and nutritional behavior within a historical perspective.

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  • 1Department of Critical Care Medicine and Surgery, University of Florence, Florence, Italy.


Obesity is an ever increasing pathological condition in Western countries. Genetic, metabolic, social and cultural factors play different roles in the varying pictures of obesity, together with nutritional behavior. This research proposes to formulate a comparison through the literary sources of the classical world, so as to determine the modalities with which obesity and nutritional habits have been perceived in the past. In Greek and Roman art, obesity often assumed the characteristics of caricature and of satire, confirmed by the elaboration of the stereotype of the sponger. Obesity generated irony and sarcasm; meanwhile the figure of the tyrant too was modelled on the physical type of the obesus, in whom the vice both of alimentary and sexual excess was concentrated. The evaluation of obesity, in the course of the time, has seen alternate phases, that propose different physical models and elaborate different aesthetical canons, but always closely related to a strong social factor as a distinctive sign: opulence. Nowadays obesity is seen, on the contrary, as an ever increasing nutritional disorder, both in prevalence and in incidence, and, to the ideal of the fat subject, very recent years have progressively substituted a different aesthetic typology, also because hyperalimentation has been qualified as a concomitant cause for a number of degenerative disorders.

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