Greco Roman Medicine

From the vantage point of Western civilization, Greco-Roman medicine has been the major source of our medical tradition. The health hazards associated with obesity were clearly noted in the medical writings of Hippocrates, where he states, ''Sudden death is more common in those who are naturally fat than in the lean'' (58). These traditions also note that obesity was a cause of infertility in women and that the frequency of menses was reduced in the obese.

Galen was the leading physician of Roman times. His influence on medicine and medical teaching lasted more than 1000 years. He identified two types of obesity, one he called ''moderate'' and the other ''immoderate." The former is regarded as natural and the other as morbid.

Descriptions of sleep apnea associated with obesity also date from Roman times. Dionysius, the tyrant of Heracleia of Pontius, who reigned ca 360 BC, is one of the first historical figures afflicted with obesity and somnolence. This enormously fat man frequently fell asleep. His servants used long needles inserted through his skin and fat to awaken him when he fell asleep. Kryger cites a second case of Magas, King of Cyrene, who died in 258 BC. He was a man ''weighted down with monstrous masses of flesh in his last days; in fact he choked himself to death'' (59,60).

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