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Obesity - The Early History

Gerald Reaven, the Stanford University Professor of Medicine tried to define Syndrome X for the first time in 1988. This was also for the first time that seemingly unconnected diseases like stroke, diabetes, dyslipidaemia and heart diseases were linked together to be the effect of 'Obesity'.

In September, 2005, Sony launched the Aibo, a Robotic Dog to be used as an anti-obesity weapon in Tokyo. Aibo helped organize food intake and recording in a nutrition pedometer. As of today, there are more than a billion of overweight adults in our world and 300 million suffer from critical clinical obesity.

In countries like the United States, an overall of $240 billion is spending each year to fight obesity and related problems. Further, it would be alarming to know that more than 112,000 deaths annually result from obesity.

Obesity - The Early History

So when did people started eating (the wrong food) in excess? The origins of the first reported obesity problem have been traced back 30,000 years ago in history. As such, the history of obesity has many a times been referred to as the 'history of failure'. In the early days, survival demanded an individual to be physically fit and his ability to store energy efficiently to last food scarcity, famines and other calamities.

However, these times of scarcity were also followed by "times of plenty" when food and drinks flowed freely and everyone had enough to stuff their stomach with. This 'seize of opportunity' is what medical professionals know as the 'thrifty gene'. The thrifty genes in our ancestors ensured the survival of the fittest and the most dominating. However, natural selection gradually turned around for the worst. In modern times, life prefers those who are inefficient to make the best use of stored energy and as such, the fat just keeps on layering up around the intestines and the abdomen.


The first clues Medically, the first clue of obesity as a disease was put down by the famous Venus of Willendorf and other prehistoric statuettes. Venus was able to accurately depict anatomically obese women. However, some believe that these caricatures were merely a symbol of fertility - quite in contrast to the modern proof that obesity results in infertility. Similarly, Moses is also known as the first personality who advised anti-obesity diet consisting of milk, honey, wine, bread, curd fishes with 'scales and fins' and all feathered kinds. The acceptable of obesity as a medical phenomenon has been rather slow compared to other diseases and for thousands of years after these early records, obesity was a rare topic for study.

Further, many cultures across the globe hailed obesity to be a prized and representation of wealth and social status. It were the ancient Greeks who first realized obesity to be a problem and that the causes could even be death. Hippocrates wrote that obesity can lead to early (premature) deaths and infertility. Similarly, the ancient Egyptians were well concerned about the diet, prioritizing not only quantity but also quality of their food. They even indulged in 'limited food intake' as a means to preserve their health. The earliest revelation can be well summed up in the words of Pythagoras, 'No man, who values his health, ought to trespass on the bounds of moderation, either in labor, diet or concubinage.'

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