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Back to Symposium 2011

Beyond inactivity and unhealthy diet: New determinants of obesity

Jean-Philippe Chaput Jean-Philippe Chaput, PhD

University of Ottawa

It is true that the positive energy balance underlying obesity is attributable to excess energy intake and insufficient energy expenditure. Thus, physical inactivity and unhealthy diet are the “Big Two” on which almost all preventive and therapeutic programs for obesity are focused. However, attempts to prevent or manage obesity based on these traditional risk factors have been generally unsuccessful, and the obesity crisis rages on.

Recent research has emphasized that other, less obvious factors may also affect energy balance. Here are some of these new determinants of obesity, namely:

  • short sleep duration
  • mental stress
  • low calcium/dairy intake, and
  • persistent organic pollutants

These non-traditional correlates of obesity have received less research attention mainly because they do not have a caloric value per se (unlike food and physical activity).However, they are very common in today’s world and can significantly impact appetite and body weight control, thereby leading to weight gain. This suggests that health practitioners and clinicians may need to consider a broader range of influential factors to more adequately address the obesity epidemic.

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