William Sheldon and bariatric surgery

30 Dec

William Sheldon was a piece of work. A psychiatrist who worked on the margins of the American academy. Famously difficult to get along with, prone to wild assertions, personally eccentric, and largely forgotten.

If he is remembered at all, it is for his involvement in the Ivy League posture photo scandal. Yet, Sheldon’s system of body classification still lives on in exercise physiology. His categories of endomorphy, ectomorphy, and mesomorphy are still used by some physicians to describe human physique.

Central to Sheldon’s system was the assertion that body type is correlated with personality. Sheldon thought that differences in body composition drove human psychological differences, an idea largely rejected by main stream psychology. However, while reading this fascinating article in the New York Times about bariatric surgery, I came across this:

Most people believe that the operation simply forces people to eat less by making their stomachs smaller, but scientists have discovered that it actually causes profound changes in patients’ physiology, altering the activity of thousands of genes in the human body as well as the complex hormonal signaling from the gut to the brain.

It often leads to astonishing changes in the way things taste, making cravings for a rich slice of chocolate cake or a bag of White Castle hamburgers simply vanish.

Here is a paper I wrote on somatotypes in 2008.

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