Several of you have alerted us to news about a study of an “obesity virus” that, when caught, appears to increase the number of fat cells in the body. (Long-time readers may remember that fat was already contagious through the power of magical thinking.) Now, I haven’t read the original study; I have no idea how much credence to give it. But what I can attest to is the oh so familiar treatment of this idea in the news. No article is complete without a headless fatty, of course (though this one went for the next best thing: the dreaded scale!).
The headless fatty pics set the tone for the freakout to come. The venerable BBC asks:
So if we want to remain slim, should we be shunning fat people?
Yes, that is an actual quote from a news article. Not from a person quoted in the article, mind you; that is just what the reporter asked the doctor who ran the study. You may find yourself wondering who this “we” is who wants to shun fat people, given that the graphic RIGHT NEXT TO THIS SENTENCE says that almost a third of Britons are obese. I’m guessing that Diane Roberts, BBC news health reporter, meant to file this under “Confidential: Thin people only” but messed up the html tags.
This article from the UK Daily Express site makes sure to include quotes from skeptics who just want us all to get off the damn couch, even if you have some stupid virus. In fact, the last several paragraphs in this article are a master lesson in cognitive dissonance:
Dr Shahrad Taheri, clinical director for obesity at the Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, said: “Most people believe obesity is caused by environmental factors.
“But there is a lot of information about how things like the furring up of arteries could be linked to infections. It is not beyond reason to think about various different factors, including infections, adding into the mix about what causes obesity.”
Tony Barnett, professor of medicine at the University of Birmingham, said: “These associations may give some clues but they detract from the basic message that we all need to take more exercise and eat a bit less.
“This kind of research needs to go on but we have to be cautious.”
Dr Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “We must acknowledge it is a contribution to the research but it doesn’t alter the management of obesity.”
The documentary also reveals research which claims to explain why those on diets feel permanently hungry, even when overweight.
A US study found that people have a “natural body weight” and respond to losing a few pounds in the same way as if they were starving.
The findings suggest that overweight people who diet will always suffer hunger pangs, even if they become lean and healthy.
Let’s break this down a bit. Dr T says fat is caused by a mix of many different factors and that we don’t know how they all go together. Then Dr B says we should be “cautious” about studying the causes of fat because he is not going to change his prescription no matter what is found: have you tried diet and exercise, you stupid fatties? Dr W backs him up on the “management” of fat, virus or no. Then we not-so-seamlessly transition into the idea of natural set points and the hellishness of dieting.
So, the takeaway from this article is that you’re fat for a whole lot of reasons including that you maybe caught a virus way back when that magically made your fat cells multiply, but that’s no license to not diet even though you will literally feel like you’re starving. Fat is contagious, but it’s all your fault. Probably some other fat person sneezed on you when you were at Chili’s a while back, so now you lie around all day eating baby donuts and making all your friends fatter. Why don’t you hit the gym if you’re so susceptible to viruses and everything? Just wash those infectious hands before you touch any equipment.