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Conspiracy Theory!

August 26, 2013

Weight LossFat HealthFat ScienceFat NewsDiet Talk

I like conspiracy theories. I don’t mean the-government-is-sending-out-signals-over-the-airwaves-to-penetrate-our-thoughts kind of conspiracies, but the ones that say things like “Big Auto companies destroyed electric transportation” or “The US hired hundreds of Nazis after WWII” or even “The KGB was involved in Kennedy’s assassination… by spreading conspiracy theories.”

With that in mind, this article has been floating around a bit. While I was trying to read it, I noticed several points that could make for some good conspiracy theories and wanted to dissect the article.

Haha, it’s funny cuz… oh never mind…

The first part is laid out like any makes-sense-but-NOT-REALLY!! article: anecdote from 1968; fat causes illness-related death; governments are trying to “do something” about fat people while companies are laughing all the way to the bank; BUT WAIT scientists don’t agree that it is fat people’s faults!

As Richard L Atkinson, Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Wisconsin and editor of the International Journal of Obesity, put it in 2005: “The previous belief of many lay people and health professionals that obesity is simply the result of a lack of willpower and an inability to discipline eating habits is no longer defensible.” [Emphasis mine]

That brings us promptly to the next very large letter (which, if you are following, is a C for “Consider”):

Consider, for example, this troublesome fact, reported in 2010 by the biostatistician David B Allison and his co-authors at the University of Alabama in Birmingham: over the past 20 years or more, as the American people were getting fatter, so were America’s marmosets. As were laboratory macaques, chimpanzees, vervet monkeys and mice, as well as domestic dogs, domestic cats, and domestic and feral rats from both rural and urban areas. [Emphasis mine]

Our laboratory animals have been gaining weight. These animals’ food intake is strictly monitored, weighed and measured. Every animal listed, whether a lab animal or not, all had consistent weight gains over the past 20 years. The article says that the scientists do not know why either, but the author speculates about increased calories anyway, saying it must be from “a tiny bit” increase in our daily intake. He continues to speculate about various things that could cause fatness, but never really returns to the lab animals. It’s important because those show that, no, fat people aren’t just gorging ourselves. And here comes the conspiracy: I think it is the food and water.

Do you know what came onto the farming scene about 23 years before that report came out? Monsanto’s genetically-modified crops. I’m not talking about crops that were now drought resistant by selective breeding or cross breeding, I mean crops that could never mutate on their own made into -icide resistant or -icide producing plants (e.g., herbicide, pesticide). I mean plants that had their DNA drastically altered and plants that were never tested in any long-term studies except for the ongoing study done on the public by companies that stand to profit from said plants. Monsanto has gone to great lengths to suppress or make illegal any study done on their crops; however, studies that have been done do not show good results. However, it’s not like we can dodge these crops. Monsanto controls 93% of soybean crops, 86% of corn crops, 93% of cotton crops, and 93% of canola seed crops in the United States alone. Corn and soy and their derivatives make up 40% of the typical American’s daily diet.

Similarly, a study published in 2012 says the scientists found bisphenol A (BPA) in 93% of our surface water (we aren’t even going to talk about how BPA shows up in many common items). Now please, bear with me. “BPA is a known endocrine disruptor, and numerous studies have found that laboratory animals exposed to low levels of it have elevated rates of diabetes, mammary and prostate cancers, decreased sperm count, reproductive problems, early puberty, obesity, and neurological problems.” BPA is also a potent adiponectin inhibitor: “Levels of [adiponectin] are inversely correlated with body fat percentage in adults.” In other words, the levels of adiponectin are closely related with weight and the less of the hormone you have, the more likely you are to develop metabolic syndrome. Even without this type of digging, studies already link BPA with metabolic disorders.

The article continues its path of exploring some studies and possible causes of fatness. The author puts forth causes like gender inequality, stress, poverty, insomnia and sleepiness, viruses and bacteria, industrial chemicals, artificial lights, and women who are starved (or on diets) while pregnant (note: all the studies I link to are not on the article; in fact, there are no links in the article itself).

The second to last block of text, the one that starts with the big letter N for “No one” (and specifically starting at the third paragraph) is especially worth reading in a “that is so crazy it might just be true” kind of sense. To paraphrase Jonathan Well’s book even further than the author has, three centuries of history has coalesced into an “obesity trap” that can last at least one generation:

Like the children of underfed people, the children of the overfed have their metabolism set in ways that tend to promote obesity. This means that a past of undernutrition, combined with a present of overnutrition, is an obesity trap. [Emphasis is not mine this time]

At the end, Wells thinks “we should be looking at the global economic system, seeking to reform it so that it promotes access to nutritious food for everyone” in order to stop the spread of fatness. Honestly, I think that we should promote access to nutritious food because all people deserve to have the best food we can give them, not because we as a society want to purge fatness out of our future generations. People deserve to have access to affordable, nutritious, and not-rotten food all the time regardless of money, race, sex, geography or any other excluding factor.

My favorite bit, though, is the last paragraph (except for the last sentence; fuck that particular sentence which I cut out):

Today’s priests of obesity prevention proclaim with confidence and authority that they have the answer. So did Bruno Bettelheim in the 1950s, when he blamed autism on mothers with cold personalities. So, for that matter, did the clerics of 18th-century Lisbon, who blamed earthquakes on people’s sinful ways. History is not kind to authorities whose mistaken dogmas cause unnecessary suffering and pointless effort, while ignoring the real causes of trouble. [Emphasis mine]


Kitsune Yokai

13 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2013 10:07 am

    I won’t be surprised when we learn that fatness carries actual benefits. The Universe loves a nice paradox, and it’s amused to see us jump at conclusions and rush to judgments.

  2. Duckie permalink
    August 26, 2013 10:17 am

    I wonder how this theory explains thin people who eat the same foods and drink the same water the rest of us do.

    • nof permalink
      August 26, 2013 10:31 am

      Genetics/epigenetics. The theory is that fat people have a “fat/thin switch” that thin people don’t, and certain chemicals flip that switch to “get fat!” Or that fat people are more sensitive to certain chemicals and gain weight as a result (adipose tissue is the body’s dumping ground for toxins it can’t get rid of or break down). But, you’d assume thin people and fat people are getting the same doses of these chemicals, and if fat people are gaining weight to create a safe space to store these things, what are thin people doing? Wouldn’t we expect to see greater effects on thin people? And these are actual questions not facetious ones, because I don’t know and genetics are cool.

      Maybe thin people’s perfect livers and kidneys turn chemicals into pure rainbows. IDK.

  3. nof permalink
    August 26, 2013 10:24 am

    I have a couple problems with that article. I want to like it, but I can’t.

    1. No citations. News articles generally don’t have inline citations, but it would have been nice and very helpful for an article in this format. Hell, a list of citations at the end would have been nice. Many people would likely dismiss such an article out-of-hand, and while citations might not convince them, it couldn’t hurt. And I also want to know his sources, because I don’t believe all his claims.

    2. Blaming weight gain on shadowy, scary ideas of GMO crops and chemical-laced everything. Could those be the culprits? Sure. However, our population has also changed drastically–the baby boomers are now in middle-to-late age, and older people are heavier, and we have become much more diverse racially. Our weight gain has been pretty modest, and the bell curve of weight hasn’t distorted (as would be expected with an *actual* epidemic)–it’s merely shifted. While this does mean that the fattest end of the spectrum has grown exponentially, because of the nature of bell curves, we still do not have an epidemic of fatness–the actual numbers of deathfatz, for example, remains low even though the rate of them has grown exponentially.

    I’m not a fan of Monsanto or chemicalized-everything, but it’s a common refrain in environmentalist and anti-corporate circles especially to blame GMO and chemicals for *everything*. And while the blame is warranted in some cases, the blame is misapplied in others.

    3. I’m unsure what, exactly, his thesis is. There’s some “don’t hate fat people, it’s not their fault” in there, with some “obesity is caused by scary things no one can control” sprinkled with “yeah, calories don’t actually work the way you think they do” with a heavy heaping of “our environment is toxic your only hope is to escape into the wilderness and live as our ancestors did and even then you will not be safe because the poison is everywhere.”

    • August 26, 2013 1:51 pm

      “the baby boomers are now in middle-to-late age…”
      I’ve had a theory for a while, for which I have no proof whatsoever but I personally think it might make some sense, that ‘middle-age spread’, as it’s commonly known, might be some form of biological insurance for the the fact that many people, in old age, lose weight, with all the health risks that implies. If you have a little extra before that happens, the weight loss isn’t quite such a shock to the system. (Similar to the well-known – to mothers, at least – weight gain in babies that usually precedes attempts to crawl, and the weight gain in adolescents, girls in particular, that precedes puberty and its height spurt.)

      And with a lot of people at a life stage characterised by weight gain, of course you’d expect to see a blip in the statistics. Like I said, only a theory but…

      • Elizabeth permalink
        August 27, 2013 10:06 am

        What you say makes a lot of sense. When women gain weight in middle age, it helps to make up for the estrogen lost due to menopause. Weight gain in prepubescent girls may help in beginning their menstrual cycles.

  4. Elizabeth permalink
    August 26, 2013 10:50 am

    I think what is important about an article such as this (and I agree that non-sourced articles are very problematic) is to get people thinking about the environment we have created. We are engaging in massive experimentation on our own bodies, and, unfortunately, on the bodies of every living creature on the planet, as well as the planet itself. It seems that most people still possess a peasant mentality: If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. The poisons of all varieties that we spread so willy-nilly are mostly invisible. AND THEY DO EXIST.

    This is what troubles me about our species. We are the only animal on Earth that constantly congratulates itself on how clever it is, yet we seem unable to imagine the consequences of our actions.

  5. vesta44 permalink
    August 26, 2013 12:05 pm

    Another thing not covered in the article, but which should be of concern to public health officials (if they’re so worried about “teh fatness”) is all of the prescription medication (and OTC medication) residues that are winding up in our public water supplies. Water treatment plants can’t remove these residues which wind up there in various ways – the ones our bodies excrete in the bathroom and are flushed away, the ones from unused medications being flushed down the toilet (one of the ways pharmacies tell you to get rid of unused medications), the ones from wrapping unused medications in coffee grounds (or other nasty garbage like used cat litter) and throwing them in the garbage. None of these disposal methods keep medications out of our ground water or out of our public water supplies. How much influence do those medications have on our metabolism, even if they are just “trace amounts”. I would think that ingesting even “trace amounts” of all those medications every day for years would have an effect on our bodies, and it can’t be a good one. But no one has come up with a better way to dispose of these medications, there is no recycling program for them.

  6. August 26, 2013 12:44 pm

    To offer a thought to the question about what thin people’s bodies are doing with these chemicals, I wonder at the exponential increase in allergies–serious food and environmental allergies are popping up all over the place,Celiac disease, gluten-intolerance, lactose-intolerance, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Basically, I’m suggesting that instead of encapsulating that stuff in the fat cells of the body, the bodies of folks who don’t have that “switch” are rejecting this stuff, causing inflammation in the organs and really, I’ve heard it said that inflammation is a huge culprit in cancers, chronic illnesses and aging in general. I’m not saying that fat people don’t have those issues, too. I would be interested to see the prevalence of it by age, socio-economic status, region, and area of residence as well as weight. The reason for this is that poverty is a huge indicator in obesity in this country and poor tend to live in the areas where there is the most environmental degradation and poisoning as well as the worst nutrition with the most GMO foods eaten. Like canaries in a coal mine, the poor are showing the health effects of this stuff first with everyone else soon to follow, maybe. Just speculation, of course.

    And Kitsune, good job in gathering the citations that the original article didn’t provide. That was a lot of work to hunt that stuff down. Good on ya!

  7. purple peonies permalink
    August 26, 2013 3:11 pm

    it was great to see this addressed from a FA perspective. thanks for posting it.

  8. August 27, 2013 7:29 am

    I hate the term conspiracy theory, while there is a lot of nonsense out there, they have trained society like Pavlovian Dogs to shut down their minds once someone starts screaming about the tin-hatters. Critical thinking gets side stepped because no one wants to be “embarrassed” or called “crazy” and it helps people step back in line right to the status quo. There is a lot that our media lies about as well as the diet industrial complex.

    All I know is when American companies, and fast food enters a developing nation, everyone gets fatter. Did everyone suddenly give up their “will-power” and became over-eating gluttons because McDonalds and KFC showed up? I know on my blog I address these matters quite a bit. The thin people just are less prone to obesity and probably have a mechanism in their bodies, that keeps them from getting fat [agree with the commenter about inflammation] but one thing I have noticed is far more are getting sick and autoimmune disorders. My elderly friends said their daughters and sons were far more sick. Something is going on, people are getting fatter.

  9. August 27, 2013 7:33 am

    correction Helps should be tells people to get back in line…

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