Changing perspective on obesity: genetic and environmental health consequences in the offspring

Tiffany Delport, Irina Pollard

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The prevalence of obesity and overweight has reached epidemic proportions with globally more than 1 billion adults being overweight and an estimated 400 million clinically obese with a projected rise to over 700 million by 20151. The condition – once affecting only high-income countries – is now a major global health concern touching all communities across all ages and socioeconomic groups. The traditional view that overweight and obesity is exclusively the result of over-indulgence in energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods with high levels of sugar and saturated fats is widespread. This is not necessarily the case promoting an urgent need to raise awareness about the multidisciplinary origins of this condition. For example; maternal exposure to a variety of fat-dense diets under differing environmental conditions and fetal developmental phases may adversely impact upon metabolic parameters predisposing the infant to an increased risk of overweight and obesity in early childhood, and reduced fertility later in adult life. By emphasizing that the condition maybe the product of both past and present circumstance, we are challenging contemporary food security improvements. It is for this reason that the present review focuses on both the science and the ethics. Bioscience ethics can usefully be linked to the discipline of epigenetics – namely environmentally triggered changes in gene expression promoting lasting legacies in subsequent generations. Importantly, epigenetic insights reveal how positive or negative environmental influences may promote resilience, or otherwise, in the offspring. By integrating ethics and the life sciences, unique educational opportunities for advancing biological understanding within the scaffolding of ethics can be created.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)170-173
    Number of pages4
    JournalEubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics : EJAIB
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


    • obesity
    • fetal metabolic programming
    • epigenetics/epigenome
    • bioscience ethics
    • addiction
    • stress


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