Dr. Robert Lustig on obesity and healthcare, hormones, and the large-scale overconsumption of sugar in America
About Robert Lustig
Robert H. Lustig, M.D. is Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at University of California, San Francisco, and Director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program at UCSF.
Dr. Lustig is a neuroendocrinologist, with basic and clinical training relative to hypothalamic development, anatomy, and function. Prior to coming to San Francisco in 2001, he worked at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. There, he was charged with the endocrine care of many children whose hypothalami had been damaged by brain tumors, or subsequent surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Many patients who survived became massively obese. Dr. Lustig theorized that hypothalamic damage led to the inability to sense the hormone leptin, which in turn, led to the starvation response. Since repairing the hypothalamus was not an option, he looked downstream, and noted that these patients had increased activity of the vagus nerve (a manifestation of starvation) which increased insulin secretion. By administering the insulin suppressive agent octreotide, he was able to get them to lose weight; but more remarkably, they started to exercise spontaneously. He then demonstrated the same phenomenon in obese adults without CNS lesions. The universality of these findings has enabled Dr. Lustig to weave these threads together into a novel unifying hypothesis regarding the etiology, prevention, and treatment of the current obesity epidemic. This has led him to explore the specific role of fructose (half of sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup) as a specific mediator of both chronic disease, and continued caloric consumption. His now notorious YouTube video, “Sugar – the bitter truth” continues its popularity with the lay public.
A native of Brooklyn, NY, Dr. Lustig went to Stuyvesant H.S. in Manhattan, graduated from MIT in 1976, and received his M.D. from Cornell University Medical College in 1980. He completed his pediatric residency at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 1983, and his clinical fellowship at UCSF in 1984. From there, he spent six years as a post-doctoral fellow and research associate in neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University. He has been a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Tennessee, Memphis. Dr. Lustig has authored 85 peer-reviewed articles and 30 reviews. He has mentored 20 pediatric endocrine fellows, and trained numerous other allied health professionals. He provides endocrinologic support to several protocols of the Children’s Oncology Group. He is the former Chairman of the Ad hoc Obesity Task Force of the Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society, a member of the Pediatric Obesity Practice Guidelines Subcommittee of The Endocrine Society, a member of the Obesity Task Force of the Endocrine Society, a member of the Pediatric Obesity Devices Committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and a member of the Steering Committee of the International Endocrine Alliance to Combat Obesity. He also consults for several childhood obesity advocacy groups.
Dr. Lustig lives in San Francisco with his wife and two daughters (ages 10 and 4). Spare time (what little there is) is spent cooking, theater-going, and traveling.