Over 988 million people1 live with obesity – a threefold increase since 1975. But while obesity is on the rise, the complex mechanisms which lead to it are not yet fully understood. And that poses a huge challenge when it comes to figuring out how to prevent and treat obesity.

At Novo Nordisk, we know that the brain’s interaction with fat tissue plays an important role in the development of obesity – but there is still so much to discover about these connections. The more we uncover about the causes of obesity, the better we will be able to develop solutions to one of the world’s foremost health challenges.

1 World Obesity Atlas

Obesity is defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a health risk. One possible cause is the way fat is distributed in the body. If there is too much fat tissue surrounding the organs, it can impact their function and cause inflammation. Another cause is a disconnect between fat tissue and the brain, which can prevent people from registering signals from the gut and stomach when they are full.

Across the world, there is a persistent message that obesity can be solved by simply eating less and exercising more – however, the reality is much more complicated. Let’s look at this myth from a scientific perspective.

In theory, if a person consumes 2,500 kilocalories (kcal) in a day but only burns 2,000 kcal, their body will store the extra 500 kcal as tissue. But bodies are more complicated than simple math equations, and there are many factors which can affect the balance of what a person consumes and burns.

To make matters more complex, the body has built-in mechanisms that try to prevent weight loss and maintain weight. Our bodies are also geared to defend a “body weight set point” – the weight a body thinks it should be.

Simply put: our bodies are hard-wired to stop us from losing weight.  

In our work, we encounter all kinds of people living with obesity who challenge the myth that obesity is caused by a lack of willpower, or that obesity is simply a lifestyle choice.

The more we study obesity and how it occurs, the more we have learned that it is caused by many different factors, including genetics, biology, psychology, society, and the lived environment.

In today’s world, many people live sedentary lifestyles that limit the total amount of calories they can burn – amidst an environment that makes it easy to overconsume calorie-rich foods. If we combine this with a genetic predisposition to store energy, it’s not surprising that obesity has risen to an epidemic rate worldwide. 

Obesity is a gateway to developing many other chronic diseases and health issues, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases and dementia. To develop the right treatments for obesity and a range of many other diseases, we must understand the underlying mechanisms of this highly complex condition.

We are continuing to expand our knowledge base by studying what makes people vulnerable to developing obesity and identifying markers that can predict the development of obesity-related complications – even after losing weight.

We are also advancing our disease understanding by studying different patient groups – for example, exploring why some people with obesity have no health complications, while others develop chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.  

Our ambition remains to disrupt the complex biology of obesity. We recognise that achieving and maintaining weight loss is challenging – and that is why we are bridging the gap between treating obesity and treating its complications.

Our research priorities include developing medicines that safely adjust the amount of energy a human body expends, as well as therapies that lower a person’s natural appetite.

Our goal is to offer patients integrated, holistic solutions. That means addressing needs beyond weight loss, preventing diseases, and helping people better maintain overall health. 

We are on a mission to increase awareness about obesity and its causes, destigmatise this chronic disease, and provide diverse treatment options.

We are working towards a future where we can help prevent and treat obesity – and even ultimately cure it. These goals drive us to undertake world-class research, work quickly, and find holistic solutions for the benefit of human health worldwide.