History of the Obesogen Field: Looking Back to Look Forward

Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2019 Jan 29;10:14. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2019.00014. eCollection 2019.


The Obesogen field developed from two separate scientific research areas, endocrine disruptors and the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD). Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are exogenous chemicals or mixtures of chemicals that interfere with the action of hormones. Exposure to EDCs during early development (DOHaD) has been shown to increase susceptibility to a variety of diseases including infertility, asthma, breast and prostate cancer, early puberty, susceptibility to infections, heart disease, autoimmune disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder/learning disability. The effects of EDCs on obesity and fat cell development first gained attention around the turn of the twenty-first century. In 2002 Dr. Paula Baillie-Hamilton wrote the first review article focusing on environmental chemicals and obesity. She suggested that the obesity epidemic correlated with the increased production of chemicals after World War II. Baillie-Hamilton identified studies showing that exposures to a variety of chemicals led to weight gain. Shortly after that a commentary on an article showing that nonylphenol would increase fat cell differentiation in vitro noted the Baillie-Hamilton article and made the point that perhaps obesity was due in part to exposure to EDCs. In 2006 the field of DOHaD/EDCs and obesity made a giant leap forward when Dr. Bruce Blumberg published a paper showing that tributyltin could lead to weight gain in mice and coined the term obesogen for a chemical that caused weight gain and lead to obesity. In 2011, the NIEHS developed the first funding initiative focused on obesogens. In the following years there have been several workshops focused on obesogens. This paper describes these early days that lead to the obesogen hypotheses and the growth of the field for a decade, leading to its prominence today, and provides some insight into where the field is moving.

Keywords: developmental origins of disease; endocrine disruptor; metabolism disruptor; obesity; obesogen.

Publication types

  • Review