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Nutritional ecology of obesity: from humans to companion animals

  • David Raubenheimer (a1) (a2), Gabriel E. Machovsky-Capuska (a1) (a2), Alison K. Gosby (a1) and Stephen Simpson (a1)


We apply nutritional geometry, a framework for modelling the interactive effects of nutrients on animals, to help understand the role of modern environments in the obesity pandemic. Evidence suggests that humans regulate the intake of protein energy (PE) more strongly than non-protein energy (nPE), and consequently will over- and under-ingest nPE on diets with low or high PE, respectively. This pattern of macronutrient regulation has led to the protein leverage hypothesis, which proposes that the rise in obesity has been caused partly by a shift towards diets with reduced PE:nPE ratios relative to the set point for protein regulation. We discuss potential causes of this mismatch, including environmentally induced reductions in the protein density of the human diet and factors that might increase the regulatory set point for protein and hence exacerbate protein leverage. Economics – the high price of protein compared with fats and carbohydrates – is one factor that might contribute to the reduction of dietary protein concentrations. The possibility that rising atmospheric CO2 levels could also play a role through reducing the PE:nPE ratios in plants and animals in the human food chain is discussed. Factors that reduce protein efficiency, for example by increasing the use of ingested amino acids in energy metabolism (hepatic gluconeogenesis), are highlighted as potential drivers of increased set points for protein regulation. We recommend that a similar approach is taken to understand the rise of obesity in other species, and identify some key gaps in the understanding of nutrient regulation in companion animals.

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Corresponding author

* Corresponding author: D. Raubenheimer, email


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