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.