Today’s nutty yet partially (British, in this case) government-funded effort to curb teh fat: adding leptin to baby formula.
Leptin’s a hormone that controls appetite. Mice given leptin supplements from infancy never get fat, evidently. So maybe if you give it to human babies, they won’t either.
A few problems with this, which the article linked above acknowledges:
- Breast milk already has leptin in it. We’ll just set aside the fact that, if leptin really made such a difference, breastfeeding would be a free and immediately available (to most) way of delivering the hormone, so it might make sense to encourage more of that instead of spending lots of time and money developing leptin-spiked formula. And we’re setting that aside because, hello: plenty of fat people were breastfed. I know some studies claim breastfed babies are, on average, less prone to obesity, and that may even be true. It’s still irrelevant here because these researchers aren’t suggesting that leptin helps some people a little, they’re suggesting it could be a magic bullet. And one look at the breastfed babies in my own family tells me it ain’t.
- They have to test this formula before it can go to market. Good luck getting parents to offer up their babies to see what happens when you pump them full of hormones.
- Stomach acids destroy leptin, so delivering it through food might not be the brightest idea ever.
There’s also one other point the article doesn’t mention, even though it’s screamingly obvious to me:
- Leptin works (as far as we know) by controlling appetite. For it to be a magic bullet, it would have to be true that all obese people A) overeat and B) overeat because they’re hungry.
Here’s the problem with that: A) Not all fat people overeat. B) Among those who do, hunger doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it.
An appetite-suppressing hormone might very well prevent obesity in children who would grow up to overeat because they’re hungry. And indeed, if one is truly hungry enough to require more calories than are theoretically necessary to fuel one’s body, one probably does have some hormonal glitch going on. But somehow, I don’t think leptin is going to make everyone thin anymore than Dexatrim has. People aren’t mice. We eat in lots of different ways, for lots of different reasons.
Likewise, we get fat in lots of different ways, for lots of different reasons. Most so-called obesity experts still don’t want to touch that fact, though. Check out the opening of that NYT article on fat: the researchers’ first response to a subject who gained weight despite calorie restriction was to accuse her of sneaking in food–to the hospital where she had volunteered to stay for 3 months (in exchange for free gastric by-pass surgery) under the supervision of those very researchers. The automatic assumption is that someone who has voluntarily chosen to suspend her life for 3 months, undergo invasive surgery, and restrict her food intake for the rest of her natural life is–while hospitalized–fucking snacking too much. And gaining a pound a day from secret snacking.
Fat is not just about calories in/calories out. It is not just about hunger. It is not just about lack of exercise. It is not even just about genes. I can say those things confidently because I’ve read a hell of a lot of obesity research, and it’s maddeningly contradictory and inconclusive. But you know what? I could have said those things confidently anyway because I’ve been fat, and because I’ve known and loved a lot of fat people, and my personal experience has shown me that, above all, fat is complicated. And everyone’s story is different.
The problem is, most obesity researchers don’t want to listen to fat people’s stories. We obviously can’t have anything useful to add, because we’re the slothful gluttons who let ourselves get fat in the first place, right? If we say we don’t eat that much, we must be lying. If we say we do exercise, we must be lying. If we say we’re not secretly snacking in the hospitals where we fucking volunteered for radical weight loss treatment, we must be lying. If we say we made “lifestyle changes” and our weight still plateaued and then started creeping back up, we must be lying–we must have merely gone on a “diet” and then started “cheating,” which everyone knows won’t work. But LIFESTYLE CHANGES totally do!!!
And if our cholesterol and blood sugar and blood pressure are all fine, well… it’s only a matter of time. And if studies show that fat people are less likely to die from cardiac disease, well… we just don’t have all the information yet. And if you point out that heart disease rates have been dropping at the same time obesity rates have been rising, well… that’s just an irrelevant coincidence, and fat people are still especially prone to developing heart disease. And if you point out once again that no, actually, they’re not, well… you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re not a doctor. You’re just a fat person.
Because you’re a fat person, you have nothing to contribute to the conversation. Because you’re a fat person, anything you say is an excuse for your poor behavior. Because you’re a fat person, by definition, you don’t know what’s best for you.
I’ve seen both Paul Campos and Glenn Gaesser say that, when shopping their respective books that question the prevailing wisdom on obesity, the first thing people asked them was, “Are you fat?” When they said no, they got book contracts. Had they been fat, the exact same research in the exact same words would not have sold. Because then those books would just have been more fat people making more excuses. A non-starter. Totally unmarketable.
In the cultural conversation about fat, the last fucking thing anyone wants to hear is a fat person’s voice.
And that’s a shame, since fat people could have told y’all, without anyone having to spend millions on research, that diets don’t work and obesity has a genetic component and leptin supplements are a dumbassed idea. If you think about it for 30 seconds, it should occur to you that fat people might just have some insights into the various causes of fat, and the struggle to get rid of it, that thin obesity researchers don’t. So if those researchers actually listened to us, instead of calling us liars and assuming we’re all completely ignorant when it comes to nutrition and exercise, they might just develop some hypotheses about the causes of obesity that have a prayer of bearing out with more research.
But then they might also have to consider the possibility that fat is a natural part of human diversity and, except at the most extreme, no significant threat to fat people themselves, let alone society as a whole. Fat people keep saying that along with all the other stuff–but it can’t possibly be true, can it? They’re making excuses. They’re full of shit. Nope, we definitely can’t listen to fat people.
Much better to scare up some volunteers willing to feed their babies hormones. That makes way more sense.