David B. Allison discusses research on causes for increasing problem
Everyone has different factors to blame for weight gain, but there is a scientific explanation for obesity.
David B. Allison shared these explanations as part of his lecture “Obesity: A Look Through the Kaleidoscope” Friday afternoon in the Public Health building on Assembly Street.
Allison is head of the Section on Statistical Genetics and director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His lecture on Friday featured statistics from his own research as well as data collected by his colleagues and former students.
The lecture was subtitled “A Look Through the Kaleidoscope” because “Each look through the kaleidoscope reveals a new picture — sometimes beautiful, always unexpected,” Allison said.
The lecture was part of the Delta Omega Honorary Society’s annual series. The lecture series was started by G. Thomas Chandler, dean of the Arnold School of Public Health, as “a tribute to the highest performing students and faculty.” Allison’s lecture was the third of its kind at USC.
According to Allison, South Carolina ranks fifth nationwide in adult obesity and 13th in childhood obesity.
The first part of his lecture focused on explaining what obesity is and what factors contribute to obesity. Allison said a good description of obesity is the law of thermodynamics.
Some of the research conducted by Allison and his colleagues yielded results that surprised the audience. One of Allison’s colleagues conducted an experiment in which mice were given a five percent caloric intake reduction, which would be equivalent to 150 calories in humans, and the mice actually gained fat from the reduction of food. Allison’s explanation of this compared the loss of calories to a budget crisis at a university.
“When a university is losing money, what do you do? Protect the endowment and lay off a portion of the work force,” Allison said. The mice stored as much food as possible and didn’t work as hard to burn off calories.
Allison said obesity is not a new trend.
“Obesity has been around for a long time, but its frequency has increased as of late due to a combination of genetic and environmental influences,” Allison said.
Allison focused on the following possible contributors to obesity: maternal age, use of air conditioning, anti-depressant use among women, time spent awake and socioeconomic status.
Allison said it’s even possible that thinking makes people fat.
“In recent decades, more and more of us sit at computer screens and physical activity is limited,” Allison said.
The second half of Allison’s presentation focused on personalized medicine and what people can do to maintain optimal health. Allison hope that one day he can use mathematic functions to predict obesity in humans.
Kassy Kugler, a first-year student in the clinical community psychology Ph.d program, attended Friday’s lecture for “professional growth.”
“It is fascinating to see the balance between environmental and genetic factors [related to obesity],” Kugler said. “There’s so much we don’t know. There’s not just one factor.”