Did the Obesity Epidemic Start in 1930?

Thorkild Sørensen

Yesterday, at the ongoing XI International Congress on Obesity, the 2010 ICO Award for Population Science and Public Health was awarded to Thorkild Sørensen from the University of Copenhagen. His studies from the early 70’s found early signs of the impending obesity epidemic in young Danish military recruits as far back as the 1960s.

His studies further suggest that this increase in obesity was related to “birth cohort” effects and can likely be traced to perinatal environmental factors rather than to influences acting on school age kids or adults. Indeed, based on his findings, Sørensen strongly recommends that we take a careful look at the historical dimension if we hope to identify the root causes of the current obesity epidemic.

As it so happens, I also had the pleasure of attending the launch of the new Wadd Society for the History of Obesity, with presentations from Professors George Bray, Stephan Rossner, and David Haslam at this meeting. The aim of the society is to promote interest in the history of obesity ranging from medical and pharmacological aspects to those of fashion, culture, art, and literature.

As all of this perhaps serves to remind those of us working in the field of obesity, that we must be very cautious before jumping to conclusions regarding whether or not recent environmental changes such as sedentary lifestyles, fast food, sugary soft drinks, television, or any of the many other factors that are being discussed are truly the root causes of the epidemic. While none of these development would be considered “healthy”, conclusive evidence as to their actual role in the epidemic of obesity is far from conclusive.

Stockholm, Sweden

For more posts on ICO 2010 click here