The estrogen hypothesis of obesity

PLoS One. 2014 Jun 10;9(6):e99776. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099776. eCollection 2014.


The explanation of obesity as a simple result of positive energy balance fails to account for the scope of variable responses to diets and lifestyles. It is postulated that individual physiological and anatomical variation may be responsible for developing obesity. Girls in poor families develop greater adiposity than their male siblings, a trend not present in richer environments. This indicates strong influence of estrogen on fat accumulation irrespective of poor socioeconomic conditions. Obesity rates in males and females of developed nations are similar, while in poorer nations obesity is much more prevalent in females. Female to male ratio of obesity correlates inversely with gross domestic product. Therefore, the parity of male and female obesity in developed countries may result from male exposure to environmental estrogen-like substances associated with affluence. These hormonally driven mechanisms may be equally active within both sexes in more developed areas, thereby increasing overall obesity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries
  • Estrogens / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Guanosine Diphosphate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Rural Population
  • Siblings
  • Skinfold Thickness
  • Urban Population


  • Estrogens
  • Guanosine Diphosphate

Grants and funding

Collection of the data on the growth of children was funded by the Medical Research Council of South Africa. The funders had no role in this study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.