International Journal of Obesity (2004) 28, 461. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802599

A tribute to Gilbert B Forbes

A Pietrobelli1 and M S Faith2

  1. 1Pediatric Unit, Verona University Medical School, Verona, Italy
  2. 2Weight and Eating Disorders Program, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

Correspondence: A Pietrobelli, Pediatric Unit, Verona University Medical School, Verona, Italy. E-mail:

'The spectacle of growth is awesome to behold'

GB Forbes

Dr Gilbert B Forbes, known worldwide as the father of pediatric body composition as well as for his research on pediatric nutrition, died on June 26th, 2002. He was 87.

Dr Forbes was the author of 'Human Body Composition: growth, aging, nutrition and activity', a classical book that every pediatrician in the field of nutrition and obesity has on the shelf.1 He published approximately 200 papers in outstanding medical journals, served as chief editor of the American Journal of Diseases of Childhood and as an associate editor of Pediatric Nutrition Reviews. From 1953, he was at the University of Rochester were he remained on the faculty of the Pediatrics Department, recently as emeritus professor. He continued to conduct research at the medical center until a few months before his death.

In 1953, Dr Forbes started to analyze body composition and estimated total body chloride in young infants by radiobromide dilution;2 and a few years later he published in Science the first paper on the estimation of total body fat from potassium-40 content.3 He was very interested in the growth of lean and fat mass during childhood and adolescence both in normal and obese subjects,4 and also was very intrigued by the mathematics of 'catch-up' growth.5

In the mid-1980s as the debate concerning the role of overeating and genetics in obesity picked up momentum, Dr Forbes showed that weight gain is proportionate to the amount of food consumed and demonstrated that subjects typically do not realize the amount of calories they have consumed.6 In the last 10 years he continued his research on two lines: food7 and pediatric body composition. In 1999, during the Fifth International Symposium on In vivo Body Composition Studies, Dr Forbes concluded his presentation by noting that '...observations on several species involving a variety of situations leading to changes in energy balance show that changes in body weight invariably comprise both the lean and the fat components of the body and that the relative contribution of lean and fat is, in many situations, a function of initial body fat content. It is no longer correct to consider each component in isolation'.8

During his last trip to Italy (October 2002) to attend, as an open speaker, the Sixth International Symposium on In vivo Body Composition Studies, Dr Forbes presented a talk entitled 'Some adventures in body composition, with special reference to nutrition'. In this talk he summarized his two lines of interest and concluded that the application of body composition techniques, both in children and adults, provides an excellent opportunity for the study, and perhaps elucidation, of the human nutrition condition.9 During this Symposium he discussed with us the ways in which to measure changes in body composition during growth, another main topic in his research, and offered us several ideas on the analysis of the metabolic factors that might influence the effects of food intake.

On top of his research career he was an extraordinary clinician with great diagnostic acumen and a unique teacher. All scientists in the field of pediatric body composition and pediatric obesity, owe a unique tribute to Dr Forbes and a special thanks for giving us a tremendous amount of information and great direction for future studies.



  1. Forbes GB. Human Body Composition: Growth, Aging, Nutrition and Activity. Springer-Verlag: New York (USA); 1987.
  2. Forbes GB. Estimation of total body chloride in young infants by radiobromide dilution. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med 1953; 83: 871–872. | PubMed |
  3. Forbes GB, Gallup J, Hursh JB. Estimation of total body fat from potassium-40 content. Science 1961; 133: 101–102. | PubMed |
  4. Forbes GB. Lean body mass and fat in obese children. Pediatrics 1964; 34: 308–314. | PubMed |
  5. Forbes GB. A note on the mathematics of 'catch-up' growth. Pediatr Res 1974; 8: 929–931. | PubMed |
  6. Forbes GB. Lean body mass interrelationship in man: dietary changes induce changes in both body components. Nutr Rev 1987; 45: 225–231. | PubMed | ISI | ChemPort |
  7. Forbes GB. Children and food—order amid chaos. N Engl J Med 1991; 324: 262–263. | PubMed |
  8. Forbes GB. Body fat content influences the body composition response to nutrition and exercise. NY Acad Sci 2000; 904: 359–365.
  9. Forbes GB. Some adventure in body composition, with special reference to nutrition. Acta Diabetol 2003; 40: 238–241.


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