Posted on September 15, 2008 by Tia Lalani

Dr. Tim Parker, psychology professor at University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, will give a talk about the biological basis of obesity.

By Nhial Tiitmamer


Dr. Tim Parker, psychology professor at University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus, will give a talk about the biological basis of obesity on September 22, 2008. The talk, entitled, “Obesity – Evolutionary Advantage but Cultural Casualty,” will examine eating regulation systems and how these systems are disrupted in the event of obesity.  

“There are complicated interactions that occur between four or five different hormones and neurotransmitters that promote eating, and another four or five that inhibit eating,” Dr. Parker said. “In our modern world, where high calorie food is so readily available, the evolutionary adaptation that promotes eating tends to overwhelm the inhibitory systems.” He said eating in an obese person tends to activate the same brain system activated in a drug addict.


Dr. Parker, whose understanding of obesity comes from research he carried out when he was writing an introductory textbook on biological psychology, said genes play a role in why some people don’t become obese. “The genes provide the instructions to produce these different hormones and neurotransmitters that regulate our eating,” he said.  “This results in a wide range of variation in how efficiently people store nutrients.”
According to Parker, lack of exercise is also a key factor. “When we combine lack of exercise with high calorie food, the inevitable result is more energy stored than used,” he said, while pointing out that “some interesting research suggests that we need to engage in several hours of moderate exercise each day in order to maintain a healthy body weight.” He stressed, pointing to the research, that there is a need for school boards to ensure that kids have regular exercise.


Additionally, Parker said addiction to food, especially to high sugary and fatty food, is an important element to look at in severe cases of obesity. “It’s probably unlikely that a particular food would be the sole target of the addiction however. On the other hand, one could say that foods containing fat, or lots of sugar, are the most commonly sought after.”

Obesity is one of the serious health issues in Canada. In a 2005 report by the Canadian Parliamentary Information and Research Services (PIRS), about 6.8 million Canadian adults at the ages 20 to 64 were overweight while 4.5 million were obese. The report says a man is considered overweight when his body weight exceeds his maximum normal weight for the height and obese when his body is 20% more than desirable weight, while a woman is obese when her body weight is 25% more than the normal weight.

As a serious health problem, obesity costs Canada a lot.  A 2004 report by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research indicated that the total cost of obesity was estimated at $1.8 billion in 1997. The report says obesity decreases life expectancy, causes poor health and quality of life, and eventually cripples the Canadian work force, which reduces national productivity.


Dr. Parker’s talk will be the first among a series of Faculty Colloquia to be presented on issues related to food, the theme of this academic year.

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