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A front and side view of a "super obese" male torso. Stretch marks of the skin are visible along with gynecomastia.
By FatM1ke – Central_Obesity_011.jpgCentral_Obesity_008.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4412552

OpenStax Biology 2e

Obesity is a major health concern in the United States, and there is a growing focus on reducing obesity and the diseases it may lead to, such as type-2 diabetes, cancers of the colon and breast, and cardiovascular disease. How does the food consumed contribute to obesity?

Fatty foods are calorie-dense, meaning that they have more calories per unit mass than carbohydrates or proteins. One gram of carbohydrates has four calories, one gram of protein has four calories, and one gram of fat has nine calories. Animals tend to seek lipid-rich food for their higher energy content.

The signals of hunger (“time to eat”) and satiety (“time to stop eating”) are controlled in the hypothalamus region of the brain. Foods that are rich in fatty acids tend to promote satiety more than foods that are rich only in carbohydrates.

Excess carbohydrate and ATP are used by the liver to synthesize glycogen. The pyruvate produced during glycolysis is used to synthesize fatty acids. When there is more glucose in the body than required, the resulting excess pyruvate is converted into molecules that eventually result in the synthesis of fatty acids within the body. These fatty acids are stored in adipose cells—the fat cells in the mammalian body whose primary role is to store fat for later use.

It is important to note that some animals benefit from obesity. Polar bears and seals need body fat for insulation and to keep them from losing body heat during Arctic winters. When food is scarce, stored body fat provides energy for maintaining homeostasis. Fats prevent famine in mammals, allowing them to access energy when food is not available on a daily basis; fats are stored when a large kill is made or lots of food is available.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e