Recent advances in understanding body weight homeostasis in humans

F1000Res. 2018 Jul 9:7:F1000 Faculty Rev-1025. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.14151.1. eCollection 2018.


Presently, control of body weight is assumed to exist, but there is no consensus framework of body weight homeostasis. Three different models have been proposed, with a "set point" suggesting (i) a more or less tight and (ii) symmetric or asymmetric biological control of body weight resulting from feedback loops from peripheral organs and tissues (e.g. leptin secreted from adipose tissue) to a central control system within the hypothalamus. Alternatively, a "settling point" rather than a set point reflects metabolic adaptations to energy imbalance without any need for feedback control. Finally, the "dual intervention point" model combines both paradigms with two set points and a settling point between them. In humans, observational studies on large populations do not provide consistent evidence for a biological control of body weight, which, if it exists, may be overridden by the influences of the obesogenic environment and culture on personal behavior and experiences. To re-address the issue of body weight homeostasis, there is a need for targeted protocols based on sound concepts, e.g. lean rather than overweight subjects should be investigated before, during, and after weight loss and weight regain. In addition, improved methods and a multi-level-multi-systemic approach are needed to address the associations (i) between masses of individual body components and (ii) between masses and metabolic functions in the contexts of neurohumoral control and systemic effects. In the future, simplifications and the use of crude and non-biological phenotypes (i.e. body mass index and waist circumference) should be avoided. Since changes in body weight follow the mismatch between tightly controlled energy expenditure at loosely controlled energy intake, control (or even a set point) is more likely to be about energy expenditure rather than about body weight itself.

Keywords: body weight homeostasis; energy balance; fat mass; obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

Grants and funding

The author(s) declared that no grants were involved in supporting this work.