Going to BAT for Obesity Solutions?

Last week saw an almost complete edition of the New England Journal of Medicine devoted to obesity – the key finding: brown adipose tissue (BAT) is alive and well in adults and in some people may contribute significantly to resting metabolic rate.

Without going into details on the findings (as these have been widely described in numerous media articles and TV reports) here is what’s new:

Although the discussion has been going on for a long time, these articles now provide conclusive evidence that BAT is indeed present in adults – women have more than men.

The presence of BAT is negatively correlated with BMI – the higher the BMI, the lesser the BAT. This suggests that having BAT may protect from weight gain (are these the folks, who can eat all they want without gaining a pound?).

BAT is stimulated by exposure to cold – not entirely unexpected. I can’t wait to see how this concept is embraced by the weight loss industry and public media.

BAT is less present in older individuals – again, not unexpected, given that expression of BAT is linked to sympathetic nervous activity, which tends to decrease with age.

Obviously, lots of interesting questions:

Can pharmacological stimulation of BAT promote weight loss – remember, this was already tried unsuccessfully with beta 3-agonists. They stimulated BAT but were poorly tolerated and never made it to market.

Can BAT imaging help identify folks at risk for weight gain – certainly not with current technology (PET-CTs), which would be prohibitively expensive.

Is turning down the ambient temperature an effective solution to preventing obesity – my guess is not.

Great science – unfortunately, no quick fix for the obesity epidemic.

Edmonton, Alberta