Current epidemiological data show a dramatic increase of obesity in industrialized countries. The excess food availability and sedentary life style characteristic of these societies may negatively interact with phylogenetic adaptations of our species, resulting in maladaptive obesity and associated metabolic problems. Most often defined as a body mass index (BMI) of > 30, obesity is now widely recognised as a major public health concern. Over the past 20 years, its prevalence in developed countries has trebled in men and women (currently circa 25-30%) with the largest increases seen in adolescents and young adults. Alarmingly, similar trends are also apparent in children. Obesity is not only associated with physical incapacity and psychological distress but also with a considerably increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory difficulties, certain cancers and premature mortality. Currently available treatments range from diet/exercise through cognitive behaviour therapy and drug therapy to bariatric surgery. Unfortunately, most of these treatment options fail to produce large or sustained weight loss and are associated with significant side-effects.

It is generally accepted that we currently live in an obesogenic environment (a sedentary lifestyle + ready availability of high-fat, energy dense foods) unsuited to our natural tendency to efficiently deposit fat stores against future famine. While the obvious prophylactic strategy must entail a major change in lifestyle (= balancing the simple energy equation), therapeutic innovation will undoubtedly follow major recent advances in our understanding of the complex neurobiological signalling involved in appetite regulation and energy homeostasis. Interestingly, with the exception of hibernating animals (in which weight gain is a physiological adaptation linked to the absence of caloric intake during the dormant period), only domesticated animals are known to display obesity-related problems.

In this workshop, scientists and clinicians from many disciplines will address key issues from complementary perspectives. Planned sessions will cover the following themes:

  • genetics, environment & gene-environment interactions
  • prenatal and perinatal exposure to man made endocrine disruptors
  • the role of gut microbiota
  • social stress
  • hypothalamic neuropeptides
  • serotonin, opioids & endocannabinoids
  • liking, wanting & palatability
  • gut-brain axis
  • anti-obesity drug development
  • polytherapy vs monotherapy
  • the clinical perspective