Evolving Science Changes the Way We Talk about Weight

Hear from the Experts

Rachel Batterham is Professor of Obesity, Diabetes and Endocrinology at University College London. She established the University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Bariatric Centre for Weight Management and Metabolic Surgery. She has extensively studied obesity, and has contributed to clinical management and the understanding of obesity-related diseases.

Professor Rachel Batterham has dedicated her career to understanding how our bodies work to gain and lose weight. She ran her first trial in 2001, when many people still believed that a basic calories in-calories out approach was the best for weight management. We now know that bodies are far more complex than can be explained with a simple equation. We also know that the way we understood patients 20 years ago is quite different to how we speak with them now.

“The first thing I do is let patients know that their weight is not their fault."

“The first thing I do is let patients know that their weight is not their fault. There are so many factors like genetics, food policy, gut health, and income inequality that can have a big impact,“ said Batterham. “We said in the past that overweight and obesity were lifestyle diseases, which stigmatized the people who were suffering. We can no longer place blame on the individual. What we know about how evolution and how our bodies store and use food is a good place to start as we educate.” As she explains, our bodies have not evolved as quickly as our access to food.

Our bodies evolved to encourage us to eat as much as we could when food was available because food scarcity was one of the greatest concerns. Our bodies evolved to store that energy for as long as they could. We now have access to food all of the time, even in the checkout line at the hardware store. It is not a matter of willpower when every chemical signal in our bodies tells us to eat, then eat more. Clinical research has allowed us to understand these chemical signals and our responses to them.

“When we try to reduce the calories in an effort to change our weight, our bodies return to their ancient roots, and turn on the chemicals that tell us that we are starving, no matter how much energy we have stored as fat,” Battherham explained. “In parts of the world where starvation even recently has been a concern, when those populations are introduced to large amounts of Westernized food, they experience rapid weight gain as a region. Their bodies were built to survive famine, not abundance.”

Batterham reminds her patients that there is good news. “Our understanding about the way human body uses food increases daily through research, including clinical trials. We have more treatment options that ever, and we very much want to help these patients.”

At Lilly, we carry out research for new potential medicines based on an ever-evolving understanding of weight management, click here to view Lilly chronic weight management trials.

For the most current information, follow us on Facebook.

Recent Articles