November 01, 2016
2 min read

Body composition researcher honored at ObesityWeek

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NEW ORLEANS Steven B. Heymsfield, MD, FTOS, executive director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, was awarded the George A. Bray Founders Award during ObesityWeek.

This award is presented to individuals who have made contributions that advanced the scientific or clinical basis for understand or treating obesity and for extensive involvement with The Obesity Society (TOS).

Steven Heymsfield
Steven B. Heymsfield

Heymsfield’s research has focused on human obesity, energy balance, metabolism and body composition, and he has written hundreds of publications on these topics during his 45-year career. He has also been a mentor to dozens of students. Besides his work with TOS, Heymsfield has served as president of the American Society of Clinical Nutrition and the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.

Heymsfield talked with Endocrine Today about his pivotal work and future direction of the field.

What was the defining moment that led you to your field?

Early in my career, the major medical problem was protein-calorie malnutrition due to famines and also in hospitalized patients with acute and chronic diseases. As a physician, I became very interested in nutritional problems associated with disease states. During that time, it became clear that obesity was an emerging medical problem while protein-calorie malnutrition on a global scale was receding. Thus, I slowly transitioned from undernutrition to overnutrition as causes of health problems, and the two states share very similar underlying concepts in energy balance.

What area of the obesity field most interests you right now and why? 

I am most interested in how the shape and composition of the human body is related to health risks. That spans a wide area of research, and my sense is that we only have scratched the surface on how these areas relate to each other.

What has been the greatest challenge in your professional career thus far?

As a physician, there were many professional pathways open to me following medical school graduation. The decision to stay largely as a researcher with modest clinical obligations was a major one that impacted on my career. Clinical vs. research are two very different pathways, and staying as an MD researcher was an important challenge. Some MDs become basic scientists, but I chose to focus more on the clinical research interface. Getting grants and supporting a large research group working at that interface is a challenge, one that I worked on through most of my career.

What do you think will have the greatest influence on your field in the next 10 years?

I am convinced that new advances in technology and big data are and will continue to transform clinical research. I see endless exciting developments with technologic innovation. Even after more than 4 decades as a physician scientist, I now realized we have just started to scratch the surface on human physiology, metabolism and disease concepts.

What are some of the most exciting advances in the obesity field that you have been a part of?

I was among the first to develop imaging methods for quantifying human body composition. My colleagues and I introduced or developed many of the methods in use today. I was also involved in some of the first studies to link obesity with sleep deprivation. We did seminal studies that led to calorie labeling on menus. I played a major role in the FDA ban on dangerous dietary supplements. – by Cassie Homer

Disclosure: Heymsfield serves on the external advisory boards of Tanita and Medifast.