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Obes Rev. 2012 Oct;13(10):910-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2012.01007.x. Epub 2012 May 29.

Obesity: lessons from evolution and the environment.

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Institute of Preventive Medicine, Centre for Health and Society, Copenhagen University Hospitals, Copenhagen, Denmark.


The 9th Stock Conference acknowledged the complex background of genetic, cultural, environmental and evolutionary factors of obesity. Gene-environment interactions underlie the flexibility in body-weight and body-fat regulation, illustrated by the hunter-gatherers' feast and famine lifestyle, the variation in physical activity over the lifespan being highest at reproductive age, the variation in energy intake through 'eating in the absence of hunger', while running the risk of exceeding the capacity of triacylglyceride storage, leading to lipotoxicity and metabolic problems. Perinatal metabolic programming for obesity via epigenetic changes in response to a 'Western diet' results in production of lipid-poor milk and metabolically efficient pups, contributing to the perpetuation of obesity throughout generations. Evolutionary insight from comparative physiology and ecology indicates that over generations activity-induced energy expenditure has remained the same compared to wild mammals, that energy balance might be dependant on protein balance, while the function of taste changed from detection of poison or energy to social drinking and social behaviour. At present, the impact of assortative mating on obesity prevalence is unambiguously positive. The complexity that appeared can only be fully appreciated by setting the data into the context of our evolutionary history.

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