Monday, August 20, 2007

Fat cooties!

This article appeared on today, reporting on a study that shows that a common virus known as adenovirus-36 may contribute to weight gain. Researchers found that stem cells exposed to the virus differentiated into fat cells and more readily stored fat than did stem cells not exposed to the virus. They also found that 30% of "obese" people have antibodies to the virus (indicating previous exposure) while only 11% of the rest of the population has the antibodies. So this may mean that the virus causes or contributes to people gaining weight.

The CNN article is interesting, but it also kind of sucks because it keeps pointing out (in case any of us fatties might get the wrong idea) that being fat is still your own damn fault even if you were exposed to the virus. For example, Dr. Samuel Klein is quoted in the article as follows: "We don't want obese people to feel that it's all their fault because it is not all their fault ... but clearly the buck finally lies with the person." Oh, let me get this straight: we don't want fat people to feel like it's all their fault since it's not all their fault, but ultimately it's all their fault. Yes, that's very clear. And a helpful bullet point at the top of the article boldly asserts: "Bottom line cause of all obesity: Eating more calories than you burn". Of course this is not true if you define "obesity" according to BMI, since as we know, BMI only looks at height and weight, so a muscular person like Brad Pitt can be "obese" based on BMI, and probably not because he eats more calories than he burns. And furthermore, even if we restrict the term "obesity" to refer a high percentage of body fat, the "calories in - calories out" model (which the same Dr. Klein quoted above also puts in a plug for) is still not a very practical concept even if technically correct. This is because, as has been demonstrated time and time again, not every person burns calories at the same rate, and some people are more efficient than others at extracting and storing calories from food. So it's not as if you can just read the number of calories on the food label or the number of calories on the digital display on your treadmill and be confident that those are the actual amounts of energy that you are taking in or expending.

I guess I just think that this finding, while interesting from an intellectual point of view, isn't really going to have much impact on fat people -- we don't know how much effect the virus has, there's no vaccine for it currently, and "curing" people of the virus will probably not make them thinner. So I don't really think fat people are going to look at this and think, oh, I guess I will stop exercising and start eating a less healthy diet now that it turns out it's not my fault that I'm fat. And so I don't know why the author of this article was so hung up on trying to prevent people from seizing on it and using it as an excuse for being fat. Well, OK, I guess I do -- it's because if anything other than laziness and gluttony contributed to fat, then maybe it wouldn't be quite as awesome to discriminate against fat people. And that would sort of take away all our fun as a society, wouldn't it?

I (and therefore the Fatosphere) will be on vacation for a few days, so try not to miss me too much. I bet my posts will be more fun and lighthearted after I get back!

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