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Obesity is an escalating threat of pandemic proportions and has risen to such unrivaled prominence in such a short period of time that it has come to define a whole generation in many countries around the globe. The burden of obesity, however, is not equally shared among the population, with certain ethnicities being more prone to obesity than others, while some appear to be resistant to obesity altogether. The reasons behind this ethnic basis for obesity resistance and susceptibility, however, have remained largely elusive. In recent years, much evidence has shown that the level of brown adipose tissue thermogenesis, which augments energy expenditure and is negatively associated with obesity in both rodents and humans, varies greatly between ethnicities. Interestingly, the incidence of low birth weight, which is associated with an increased propensity for obesity and cardiovascular disease in later life, has also been shown to vary by ethnic background. This review serves to reconcile ethnic variations in BAT development and function with ethnic differences in birth weight outcomes to argue that the variation in obesity susceptibility between ethnic groups may have its origins in the in utero programming of BAT development and function as a result of evolutionary adaptation to cold environments.

Original publication




Journal article


Mamm Genome

Publication Date





413 - 423


Adipose Tissue, Adipose Tissue, Brown, Animals, Biological Evolution, Birth Weight, Disease Susceptibility, Epigenesis, Genetic, Female, Humans, Obesity, Pregnancy, Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects