Considerable attention is currently being paid to the secular changes in food intake and physical activity that underlie the increase in the prevalence of obesity that is apparent in many societies. While this is laudable it would be unwise to view these environmental factors in isolation from the biological factors that normally control body weight and composition and the compelling evidence that inter-individual differences in susceptibility to obesity have strong genetic determinants. This is particularly important, as it is only in the past decade that we have begun to obtain substantive information regarding the molecular constituents of pathways controlling mammalian energy balance and therefore, for the first time, are in a position to achieve a better mechanistic understanding of this disease. Population-based association and linkage studies have highlighted a number of loci at which genetic variation is associated with obesity and related phenotypes and the identification and characterization of monogenic obesity syndromes has been particularly fruitful. While there is widespread acceptance that hereditary factors might predispose to human obesity, it is frequently assumed that such factors would influence metabolic rate or the selective partitioning of excess calories into fat. However, it is notable that, thus far, all monogenic defects causing human obesity actually disrupt hypothalamic pathways and have a profound effect on satiety and food intake. To conclude, the evidence we have to date suggests that the major impact of genes on human obesity is just as likely (or perhaps more likely) to directly impact on hunger, satiety and food intake rather than metabolic rate or nutrient partitioning. At the risk of oversimplification, it seems that from an aetiological/genetic standpoint, human obesity appears less a metabolic than a neuro-behavioural disease.
One contribution of 16 to a theme issue ‘Appetite’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society