When Dr. Jeff Friedman followed in his father’s path to become a doctor, he entered a six-year medical program out of high school and received an M.D. at the age of 22. After a yearlong fellowship working in the lab of The Rockefeller University's Mary Jane Kreek, he fell in love with the science life. Today, using advanced techniques in neurobiology and genetics, Dr. Friedman has identified and characterized the activity of leptin, a hormone secreted by fat cells that balances food intake and energy expenditure. By studying leptin, as well as other genes that influence weight, Friedman hopes to eventually aid in the development of therapies to combat obesity. Dr. Friedman is a Professor at the Rockefeller University in New York City and Director of the university's Starr Center for Human Genetics. Lately, he has taken his search for fat genes to Kosrae, a small island in the Pacific where obesity is rampant. By analyzing DNA collected from all the adults on the island, Dr. Friedman hopes to learn more about why some people are overweight while others are lean.
Topic: Why do we eat too much?
Jeff Friedman: Well, I think geneticists in general are less- have an underlying core belief that most of our processes are biologically determined. What is free will really is a major question. I’m-- At some level it has to do with who decides. Is it this basic biological drive that decides whether you’re- whether or not you eat or is it, quote, you who decide whether or not to eat, and then of course the question is who are, quote, you? At the end of the day, unless you believe we’re metaphysical beings, there are neural circuits in our higher cognitive centers and there are neural centers in our more basal centers such as the hypothalamus. They’re all-- They all obey the physical laws of the universe and talk to one another and so what we’re really talking about at least with respect to feeding is who calls the shots, the basic drive or the conscious part of yourself that might decide you’d rather weigh ten fewer pounds. I think history is littered with examples of battles between basic drives and higher cognitive wishes and I’ll leave it at that and let you conclude for yourself which I think is the- is more powerful.