kottke.org posts about obesity
This interactive chart from the Washington Post shows how the average body mass index has risen in most countries since 1980. The European men getting comparatively heavier than European women (against the general trend of the rest of the world) is interesting.
Researchers at Princeton have shown that if you keep the number of calories the same, rats eating high-fructose corn syrup "gained significantly more weight" than rats who ate table sugar.
Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn't true, at least under the conditions of our tests," said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. "When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they're becoming obese -- every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don't see this; they don't all gain extra weight.
But not so fast sugar lovers:
The new research complements previous work led by Hoebel and Avena demonstrating that sucrose [i.e. "regular sugar"] can be addictive, having effects on the brain similar to some drugs of abuse.
So you're screwed either way.
In paintings of the Last Supper done over the past 1000 years, the portion sizes of the food depicted have increased by 69%.
From the 52 paintings, which date between 1000 and 2000 A.D., the sizes of loaves of bread, main dishes and plates were calculated with the aid of a computer program that could scan the items and rotate them in a way that allowed them to be measured. To account for different proportions in paintings, the sizes of the food were compared to the sizes of the human heads in the paintings.
According to a recently released study, 42% of Manhattan dwellers are overweight or obese, compared to 67% nationally.
Manhattan is the national capital of disparate subcultures of the skinny: Aspiring models. Nightclubbing hipsters. Gay men with the time and money to chisel their physiques at the gym. Park Avenue society matrons who remain preternaturally slender into their 70s, the "social X-rays" satirized by Tom Wolfe.
When 2/3 of the American population is considered outside the normal range when it comes to their BMI, how long will it be before the standards are modified to reflect the new norms?
In an attempt to answer that question, Elizabeth Kolbert reviews a gaggle of books in this week's New Yorker. (This is only part of the answer.)
According to what's known as the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis, early humans compensated for the energy used in their heads by cutting back on the energy used in their guts; as man's cranium grew, his digestive tract shrank. This forced him to obtain more energy-dense foods than his fellow-primates were subsisting on, which put a premium on adding further brain power. The result of this self-reinforcing process was a strong taste for foods that are high in calories and easy to digest; just as it is natural for gorillas to love leaves, it is natural for people to love funnel cakes.
Kolbert's article is a good overview of the current popular views on obesity. Related: Scientists Discover Gene Responsible For Eating Whole Goddamn Bag Of Chips.
New paper: fast food doesn't make you fat.
When eating out, people reported consuming about 35 percent more calories on average than when they ate at home. But importantly, respondents reduced their caloric intake at home on days they ate out (that's not to say that people were watching their weight, since respondents who reported consuming more at home also tended to eat more when going out). Overall, eating out increased daily caloric intake by only 24 calories. The results for urban and suburban consumers were similar.
(via marginal revolution)
In an effort to curtail healthcare spending, the Japanese government is requiring companies to cut the number of overweight workers (and their dependents!) by 25% as of 2015. Companies which fail to do so will have to pay into a fund for elderly care.
Reduced exercise, the adoption of western foods and an aging population have made Japanese men about 10 percent heavier than they were 30 years ago, ministry statistics show. Women are 6.4 percent fatter.
The ministry estimates that half of men over age 40 and 20 percent of women will be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. For men, a key yardstick is whether they have a waistline wider than 85 centimeters (33.5 inches). Body mass, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and smoking will also be taken into account.
Pop quiz, hotshot.
There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour... Who fares worst health-wise, diet soda drinkers or fried food eaters? Surprisingly, researchers have found a correlation between diet soda consumption and metabolic syndrome.
The one-third who ate the most fried food increased their risk by 25 percent compared with the one-third who ate the least, and surprisingly, the risk of developing metabolic syndrome was 34 percent higher among those who drank one can of diet soda a day compared with those who drank none.
What I Learned Today did some further digging and found a different study that links diet soda consumption and obesity.
For diet soft-drink drinkers, the risk of becoming overweight or obese was:
- 36.5% for up to 1/2 can each day
- 37.5% for 1/2 to one can each day
- 54.5% for 1 to 2 cans each day
- 57.1% for more than 2 cans each day.
A new study shows that if a person's friends become obese, that person is at a great risk of obesity themselves. For close mutual friends, the risk factor for transmitted obesity increased by 171%.
Update: Dr. Jonathan Robison calls the above study "junk science". "How does one conclude a direct causal relationship from an observational study? Bald men are more likely than men with a full head of hair to have a heart attack. Can we conclude from this that they should buy a toupee or begin using Rogaine lotion to lower their risk?" (thx, robby)
Update: Clive Thompson's NY Times Magazine article (Sept 2009) covers this study in more detail. In addition to obesity, the study indicates that smoking, happiness, and drinking may be contagious.
Research suggests that those who fidget are less likely to be obese. Fidgeters of the world say, "well, duh, all that moving around is good exercise".
Michael Pollan blasts the current US farm bill, saying that all the subsudies for corn, soy, wheat, etc. drive down the price of unhealthy foods relative to healthful foods like carrots, making the bil responsible for the obesity and over-nutrition of the country's population, especially the poor. "A public-health researcher from Mars might legitimately wonder why a nation faced with what its surgeon general has called 'an epidemic' of obesity would at the same time be in the business of subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup. But such is the perversity of the farm bill: the nation's agricultural policies operate at cross-purposes with its public-health objectives."
Kate Spicer writes about her experience with an extreme diet in an attempt to drop to size zero in six weeks. "The next day I get up and run for an hour and feel really fat. The truth is, the more weight I lose, the fatter I feel and the more I want to lose weight. I lie in bed in the mornings feeling my hipbones and wanting to feel them more. I want them to jut out." A documentary featuring Spicer and other female journalists is showing on Channel 4 in the UK on April 22. Spicer previously ran the 150-mile, seven-day Marathon des Sables across the Sahara in 2006.
Update: UK singer and TV presenter Louise Redknapp recently went on a similar diet for another TV program. (thx, leanne)
Restaurants are beginning to experiment with smaller portions on their menus, but since portion Supersizing has meant increased profits (and expanding American waistlines) for years, it's a risky play. "Larger portions are so profitable because food is relatively cheap. On average, food accounts for about a third of the total cost of running a restaurant; such things as labor, equipment, advertising, rent and electricity make up the rest. So while it may cost a restaurant a few pennies to offer 25 percent more French fries, it can raise its prices much more than a few cents. The result is that larger portions are a reliable way to bolster the average check at restaurants."
Five reasons why Americans might be getting fatter that you haven't thought of. "Sleep-deprived animals eat excessively, and humans subject to sleep deprivation show increased appetite and an increased Body Mass Index, the standard measure of excessive weight."
As France becomes more like the US in eating habits, the famously thin French are getting fatter. "Some of the reasons for the increase in obesity are those that plague the United States and much of Europe: the lure of fast food and prepared foods, the ubiquity of unhealthy snacks and sedentary lives."
Interesting graph comparing the size of new homes and the obesity rate in America (which seem to track quite closely since 1995), prompting the question, are Americans growing to fit their environment? Relatedly, Bernard-Henri Levy on American obesity: "The obesity of the body is a metaphor of another obesity. There is a tendency in America to believe that the bigger the better for everything -- for churches, cities, malls, companies and campaign budgets. There's an idolatry of bigness."
Study: people eat more when food is close at hand and in sight and less when its farther away and out of sight.
Interview with Soso Whaley, director of Mickey D's and Me, counterpoint to Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. "Even without seeing [Super Size Me] I could tell from the clips and the description by Spurlock that this was nothing more than junk science masquerading as legitimate scientific discovery."
Study: tall, slender, beautiful people get paid more. "They showed that women who were obese...earned 17 percent lower wages on average than women [of recommended weight]". 17%! That's quite a disparity.