Two follow-ups and a non sequitur

Re: “Obesity blamed for world’s ills”: I came home from New York this weekend to find that my boyfriend had been arguing with people on Slashdot all day about whether fat people were really causing global warming. When I asked him about it, he went off on a delightful rant about how if you accept the 18% more calories estimate as accurate, that amounts to an additional 7 watts 17 watts of power per day, which can be offset by, say, a thin person leaving the fridge door open too long driving a 200-horsepower car for 11 seconds.  (I misremembered the number of watts, and then we just figured out a better analogy, so I edited.)  I tried to entice him to write a guest post — “A Physicist’s Perspective,” perhaps — but no dice. Luckily, Erica Barnett wrote a great guest post at Shakesville addressing some of the same issues. No wattage calculations, sadly, but Erica takes apart the study in the same way, showing that even if you accept its flawed methods and presumptions, the conclusion is still bohonkey:

Let’s leave aside for a second the fallibility of BMI (well-documented by Kate Harding here) as a measure of health, well-being, or, frankly, fat; let’s ignore also the presumption that neither of these hypothetical populations exercise or do anything to increase their caloric needs other than being fat. (Although I don’t anticipate I’ll see the headline “compulsive exercisers to blame for world’s ills” any time soon.) Let’s even accept the study’s premise that fat people stay fat simply because they eat more.

The conclusions still don’t follow the data.

Head to Shakesville to see why.

Re: comfort eating: It’s still tough to find good research on people, because it’s confounded by the rebound effect of restricted eating, where you tend to eat a lot more of foods you’ve denied yourself (plus, it’s hard to get funding for a non-judgmental study on comfort eating — the not-diet industry has way less money than the diet industry). But we’ve at least now got some research on monkeys. It appears that low-status monkeys who are given access to junk food (well, the monkey equivalent of junk food) eat more than their high-status peers. “Low-status” seems really loaded, like the idea is that less popular monkeys eat more — but in the simian world, low-status equals high social stress. The analogy isn’t to low-status humans, whatever that would mean, but to humans who experience stress or have high levels of stress hormones.

Monkeys’ cravings aren’t so complicated. The female monkeys weren’t dieters who tasted one forbidden food and then couldn’t stop themselves from binging. They were not rebelling against the thin mandate from tyrannical fashion magazines. They weren’t choosing junk food because they couldn’t find healthier fare. They weren’t seduced by commercials telling them they deserved a break today.

For the monkeys the situation seems simple. They get some sort of comfort that is particularly appealing to the subordinate monkeys.

Like any animal model, it has its flaws. Monkeys aren’t people. But it’s interesting.

Re: nothing in particular: God, I really love the word “snack.” I need to start having more snacks. I mean, I sometimes eat between meals, but I rarely think of it as a “snack”; I think of it as “having some hummus because dinner won’t be for a while” or whatever. But it makes me unutterably happy when people talk about making themselves a snack, and I’m going to snack more.

25 thoughts on “Two follow-ups and a non sequitur

  1. I think if it involves more than one container OR more than one utensil it is no longer a snack but a light meal. So hummus out of the carton is a snack, but on a plate with artfully arranged crackers is a light meal.

    So sayeth moi.

  2. “It appears that low-status monkeys who are given access to junk food (well, the monkey equivalent of junk food) eat more than their high-status peers.”

    I’ll bet those are the monkeys that aren’t drinking or smoking. It’s because they’re being bullied by those high status monkeys that are planning their summer trips to the Hamptons.

    Bullied primates are stressed. Who knew?

    Jeebus, what next?

  3. I feel I should warn y’all. Don’t be eating or drinking anything if you go and read the comments over at Shakesville. You WILL be choking with laughter if you do. ;-)

  4. We shouldn’t even dignify the stupid “Fat People are Responsible for Climate Change!” opinion piece by calling it a “study”. It’s no such thing. It appeared in the Correspondence section of the Lancet, and is therefore nothing more than a letter to the editor.

  5. Meowser, crap, I meant to mention how brilliantly great the comments were! Thanks for picking up the slack. :)

    mulherresperta, I’m hoping I balanced things out by following up “study” with “bohonkey.” :)

  6. Yeah, I was amazed. There wasn’t a single troll or fat-bashing comment on that entire thread. I guess Disqus is doing its job!

    Incidentally, regarding your correction above, is that for a thin person driving a 200 HP car for 11 seconds, or a fat person? (You know what a big difference THAT makes! :-P)

  7. “The analogy isn’t to low-status humans, whatever that would mean”

    Um, how about the status of women in a patriarchy?

  8. It’s a sign of reading too much Georgette Heyer, but I like “nuncheon” – light refreshment in the afternoon – even better than “snack”.

  9. I try to keep snacking to a minimum, but for the dental benefits rather than any perceived metabolic effect. Then when I do eat, I brush my teeth immediately afterwards. I’ve become a bit obsessive-compulsive about my teeth and gums after having a root-canal, but I think this neurosis will probably do me good in the long run.

  10. Want to see a smile light up a child’s face? Offer a snack. Kids attach no baggage to the word, and all they know is they’re going to eat a little bit of something and then they’re going to feel good and want to play some more.

    Pretty wise IMO.

  11. I love “nuncheon” and I quite like “smackerel.”

    We had rhubarb clafouti, cold, with custard, hot, for lunch today.

  12. Sweet Jeebus on a shishkabob skewer!

    All this “article” does is reveal the human race’s need to scapegoat — someone! anyone! — rather than look at their own patterns of consumption.

    It’s like we can’t exist without The Other to sacrifice for our collective sins.

  13. Um, how about the status of women in a patriarchy?

    That’s one option, but there are a lot more. It’s just not as clear-cut as with monkeys, because we have zillions of interlocking ways of being low- or lower-status. Honestly, probably all of them work in this scenario — but also all of them tend to have higher levels of stress hormones, which keeps things in the scientific realm.

  14. You reminded me, I’ve been meaning to get some good Hummus for a long time, and for some reason have kept putting it off. I must get the Hummus today, or tomarrow..uh, well if tomarrow doesn’t work I guess.. j/k lol

  15. RE the primate study, there is a fascinating and awesome book that covers the effect in modern humans called
    “The Status Syndrome”.
    Totally recommend.

  16. One of these days, I need to ask a large sample of the “fattiez are bad!” cohort how, exactly, they would propose to make ME fat. Especially since the “eat 3000+ calories a day, mostly of chocolate and cream cheese, and get no exercise except walking around a small two-story building occasionally” method I tried in high school failed.

    My point, of course, is that if no one can figure out how to make a thin person fat, they should STFU about knowing how to make fat people thin.

  17. Woohoo! Ailbhe – that woman was an israeli tourist.

    Is it wrong that I’m oddly proud about that?

  18. Dani, your comment is like the best thing I have read all day. Can I get you an award or something?

  19. Can I add another total non sequitur? I just heard this poem on the radio, and had to share:
    Teddy bear” by A.A. Milne. I was worried about where it might be going, but then the last couple of lines were awesome:

    A bear, however hard he tries,
    Grows tubby without exercise.
    Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
    Which is not to be wondered at.
    But do you think it worries him
    To know that he is far from slim?
    No, just the other way about -
    He’s proud of being short and stout.

  20. jazzy – you may get me as many awards as you like. Bonus points if they contain chocolate and/or cream cheese. :D

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