UAB researchers dig deep into weight gain

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) – Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say they are making work into understanding weight gain and the obesity epidemic in humans.

Obesity researcher David B. Allison, Ph.D., says the usual answer of too much eating and too little exercise may be a drastic oversimplification of the true causes of obesity. The true cause of obesity, he says, may be much more complicated than the conventional wisdom.

Allison studied a group of primates called marmosets that lived with or around humans and noted that the population gained weight over time. He could find no particular reason for the weight gain.

A further experiment into several different species of mammals  returned various results with all populations showing weight gain.

"And yet there was no single thread running through all 24 data sets that would explain a gain in weight," says Allison. "The animals in some of the data sets might have had access to richer food, but that was not the case in all data sets. Some of the animals might have become less active, but others would have remained at normal activity levels.  Yet, they all showed overall weight gain. The consistency of these findings among animals living in different environments, including some where diet is highly controlled and has been constant for decades, suggests the intriguing possibility that increasing body weight may involve some unidentified or poorly understood factors."

Allison and Yann Klimentidis, Ph.D., a post-doctoral trainee in the School of Public Health, say there are several factors that could be the reason for the weight gain. Light changes, viruses and epigenetics all factor in as possible causes to the gains.

"When looking for ways to combat obesity in humans, we need to be more aware of all the possible alternative causes of obesity," said Klimentidis. "If we can find causes for the weight gain seen in our animal subjects, we may be better able to apply that to coping with obesity in humans."

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