The obesity research: From chambers to atwater to the ob gene

Judith S. Stern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Historically the field of nutrition can be divided into 5 periods: prescientific (stone age to 1800s); caloric & nitrogen balance studies (19C); trace element discovery & deficiency diseases and genes & diet (1990s). Obesity history dates to a 25,000 yr statue of an obese woman, Venus of Willendorf, a fertility symbol. Hippocrates, 400 BC, linked obesity and increased mortality. Bray noted a moralistic approach as a cause of obesity in Greco-Roman times and in 12 to 15C Arabic writings which wained with 19C studies of energetics and reemerged in the 20C. Lavoisier (18C) laid a basis for understanding energetics. (Chambers 1850) noted that weight gain would occur if more nutrients or carbon were taken in to the body than was needed for respiration. Advances in energy balance studies occurred with the invention of the respiration calorimeter (1882) and its modification and use by Atwater & Rosa (1899) demonstrating that the 1st law of thermodynamics applied to humans. In 1900, von Noorden distinguished between obesity due to overeating vs. obesity due to glandular disorders. By 1901 several papers associated "pituitary tumors" with obesity and in 1912, specifically with hypothalamic lesions. In 1940s and 50s, Hetherington & Ranson; Anand & Brobeck; and Mayer focused on the hypothalamus. In 1994, Friedman & associates cloned a mouse obesity (ob) gene that codes for a protein (leptin) made by adipose tissue. Mice with defects in leptin become obese due, in part, to defects in food intake, energy expenditure and nutrient partitioning. Leptin given to ob/ob mice corrects obesity. Further studies by Friedman (1996) suggest that leptin effects are mediated through a hypothalamic leptin receptor. With these and other studies, approaches to obesity treatment are focused more on health and will have less of a moralistic approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology


Dive into the research topics of 'The obesity research: From chambers to atwater to the ob gene'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this