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  • Origin of the word ‘obesity’

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    Thursday, June 02, 2005 4:08 am Email this article
    The word "obesity" comes from the Latin word "obesus" which means "one who has become plump through eating" according to Richard Barrnett from the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine. However, in Latin, "obesus" also means "coarse" or "vulgar". The word obesity first appeared in 1620

    The word “obesity” first appeared in a medical context in a book titled Via Recta by Thomas Venner published in 1620, Barrnett notes.

    Obesity seen as hazard of the civilized class

    Venner believed that obesity was an occupational hazard of the civilized class, and that their physique could be restored by following the concepts of Hippocrates of balancing diet, sleep, and other factors to create and maintain health.

    Pressure remained on individuals to treat themselves

    In the 18th and 19th centuries, writers preferred the term “corpulence”, which means “excessively fat” and the pressure remained on individuals to treat themselves according to Barrnett.

    “This was exemplified by William Banting’s pamphlet A Letter On Corpulence Addressed To The Public (1863),” Barrnett writes.

    Thousands of Banting’s book were sold, and “banting” became a verb.

    Ideal weight first defined in 1959

    “1959, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company first attempt to define ideal weight, weight, and hence to create medical criteria for intervention in obesity” says Barrnett.


    Barnett R. Obesity. Lancet. 2005 Jun 7, 365(9474):1843.


    Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine

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