Canaries in the coal mine: a cross-species analysis of the plurality of obesity epidemics

Proc Biol Sci. 2011 Jun 7;278(1712):1626-32. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1890. Epub 2010 Nov 24.


A dramatic rise in obesity has occurred among humans within the last several decades. Little is known about whether similar increases in obesity have occurred in animals inhabiting human-influenced environments. We examined samples collectively consisting of over 20 000 animals from 24 populations (12 divided separately into males and females) of animals representing eight species living with or around humans in industrialized societies. In all populations, the estimated coefficient for the trend of body weight over time was positive (i.e. increasing). The probability of all trends being in the same direction by chance is 1.2 × 10(-7). Surprisingly, we find that over the past several decades, average mid-life body weights have risen among primates and rodents living in research colonies, as well as among feral rodents and domestic dogs and cats. The consistency of these findings among animals living in varying environments, suggests the intriguing possibility that the aetiology of increasing body weight may involve several as-of-yet unidentified and/or poorly understood factors (e.g. viral pathogens, epigenetic factors). This finding may eventually enhance the discovery and fuller elucidation of other factors that have contributed to the recent rise in obesity rates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight*
  • Callithrix / physiology
  • Cats
  • Chlorocebus aethiops / physiology
  • Dogs
  • Epidemics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macaca / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / veterinary*
  • Pan troglodytes / physiology
  • Prevalence
  • Rats
  • Sex Factors
  • Species Specificity