From Obesity to Energy Metabolism: Ontological Perspectives on the Metrics of Human Bodies

Topoi 40 (3):577-586 (2020)
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In this paper, we aim at rethinking the concept of obesity in a way that better captures the connection between underlying medical aspects, on the one hand, and an individual’s developmental history, on the other. Our proposal rests on the idea that obesity is not to be understood as a phenotypic trait or character; rather, obesity represents one of the many possible states of a more complex phenotypic trait that we call ‘energy metabolism.’ We argue that this apparently simple conceptual shift can help solve important theoretical misconceptions regarding the genetics, epigenetics, and development of obesity. In addition, we show that our proposal can be fruitfully paired with the concept of developmental channeling of a trait, which connects to the study of the plasticity and canalization of complex traits. Finally, we discuss the potential impact of our approach on the assessment, treatment, and social narratives of obesity.

Author Profiles

Davide Serpico
University of Trento
Andrea Borghini
Università degli Studi di Milano


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