Obesity from a sign of being rich to a disease of the new age: A historical review

Somayeh Marghoub, Sarvin Sanaie, Mark J.M. Sullman, Seyed Aria Nejadghaderi, Saeid Safiri, Reza Mohammadinasab

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background and Objective: Obesity has historically been seen as a sign of wealth and social privilege, as can be inferred from studying the ancient works. We aimed to report the causes, diagnostic approaches, and treatment among the authentic books of traditional Iranian medicine. Methods: We searched the original versions of historical books and used a narrative approach to report the history of obesity. Results: Obesity was often seen as an indicator of complete health. Obesity in healthy women was a requirement for beauty, based on descriptions of women from the Zoroaster period and from antiquity to the late Qajar period. This point of view existed during various ages. However, after the constitutional period, the view of obesity changed into that of an illness, due to modern ideas and offshore role models, especially during the Pahlavi era. This change led to serious attempts to treat obesity. Obesity is a critical problem that needs immediate attention to prevent substantial health consequences. Different medical paradigms have presented their criteria and foundations throughout history. The emphasis of Iranian alternative medicine was on prevention and the maintenance of health, with the next step being treatment. Prevention, treatment, consuming medicinal plants, and recovery have often been written about in the traditional books of medicine. Conclusions: Throughout the traditional Iranian medical texts, physicians have made recommendations about maintaining an appropriate body weight. The best treatment was prevention and a healthy lifestyle. The treatments for controlling and restricting obesity included paying attention to nourishment, mobility, and even the habitat.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1670
JournalHealth Science Reports
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2023


  • cardiovascular
  • health and history
  • herbal medicine
  • obesity
  • Persian medicine
  • traditional medicine


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