A review of the carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017 Mar;71(3):323-326. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2016.260. Epub 2017 Jan 11.


The carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity theorizes that diets high in carbohydrate are particularly fattening due to their propensity to elevate insulin secretion. Insulin directs the partitioning of energy toward storage as fat in adipose tissue and away from oxidation by metabolically active tissues and purportedly results in a perceived state of cellular internal starvation. In response, hunger and appetite increases and metabolism is suppressed, thereby promoting the positive energy balance associated with the development of obesity. Several logical consequences of this carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity were recently investigated in a pair of carefully controlled inpatient feeding studies whose results failed to support key model predictions. Therefore, important aspects of carbohydrate-insulin model have been experimentally falsified suggesting that the model is too simplistic. This review describes the current state of the carbohydrate-insulin model and the implications of its recent experimental tests.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity
  • Body Weight
  • Diet
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood*
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin Secretion
  • Models, Biological
  • Obesity / blood*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Insulin