Professor Jeffrey Friedman has spent well over a decade researching the biological basis for obesity and has come to the conclusion that we should be fighting a ‘war on obesity, not the obese’. His, name has become synonymous with the hormone leptin the topic of  this year’s prestigious Boyd Orr lecture this afternoon at the Nutrition Society Summer Meeting.

Introducing the speaker, Professor Michael Symonds of the meeting’s hosts, Nottingham University, joked, ‘When leptin was first discovered, we all thought ‘yippee, we’ve solved the problem of obesity. But, since then, the obesity rates have continued to rise and rise’. So why is this?

Obesity is as complex a social problem as it is a biological one, as followers of Handpicked…and carefully sorted will only be too aware by now. However, delegates attending Friedman’s lecture were invited to leave their preconceptions about obesity and its aetiology at the door were treated in return to an enlightening exploration of the leptin story; its discovery and the trials and tribulations of the search for a cure for obesity (or maybe now we should be saying’ leptin resistance’).

Challenging the many popular beliefs that obesity is a result of a lack of willpower on the part of obese individuals, a product of their lifestyles or of the environment or a result of biology and genetics (and in the US at, said Friedman, the debate is fairly polarised), is no easy task, but Friedman’s data makes for a convincing case not to stigmatise the obese. He, at least, makes the case that, as a mainly biological disorder, it can be treated successfully, we just need to find the right target. The goal should be much simpler. Weight loss (and having weight as a goal) is not the answer, health is. And, luckily, just a modest amount of weight loss can achieve disproportionate improvements in health. Yippee!

For those of you who missed all that, Friedman’s presentation will soon be made available to view in full on the Nutrition Society’s website. So watch this space…oh, and this one!

Further reading

Heymsfield et al. (1999). Recombinant leptin for weight loss in obese and lean adults: a randomized, controlled, dose-escalation trial. JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association Vol. 282, No. 16, pp. 1568-1575.

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