Zombie Fat and Tastebud Transmission: WTP?

You know, I write a lot about science reporting here, but the emphasis there is on reporting. I have not taken a science class since high school, and I did not do well in the ones I took then. My degrees are in English and writing, and my professional experience is in writing and editing. I don’t analyze scientific research here; I analyze texts. Also, I rant. Anything else is beyond the scope of my qualifications.

Fortunately, I have an endless supply of material, because analyzing texts appears to be beyond the scope of a great many writers’ and editors’ qualifications these days.

On the plus side, I’ve been noticing some shockingly logical and panic-free reporting about fat coming from Reuters lately. I was even beginning to wonder if there’s a health editor somewhere in there who actually has a clue. And who, you know, actually takes their editorial policy to heart.

Then I read Fat-o-Matic today, wherein La di Da discusses this: Heavy moms who shed pounds still have big babies.

Overweight women are known to have a greater chance of giving birth to a larger-than-normal baby. But new research suggests that these odds stay higher even when a woman loses weight before pregnancy.

In a study of more than 146,000 women who’d each given birth twice, researchers found that those who maintained a normal body weight before each pregnancy had the lowest odds of having an abnormally large newborn.

Not surprisingly, women who were overweight or obese before each pregnancy had higher risks of delivering a large baby.

However, overweight women who lost weight before their second pregnancy did not eliminate their increased odds of having an oversized newborn.

I’m nodding, I’m nodding… No, it’s not surprising that fat women have big babies. And it’s certainly not surprising that losing weight before a pregnancy won’t affect the outcome of said pregnancy. I mean, dieting obviously doesn’t alter your genes — that’s where we’re going with this, right?

Not so much.

This, the study authors speculate, could mean that a woman’s excess pounds have a lasting effect on subsequent pregnancies, even after she’s slimmed down.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? The weight she already lost somehow comes back to affect the size of the baby? As La di Da puts it: “Zombie fat: you can never be rid of it even if you cut its head off.”

Liss, may I please borrow the “What the Poop?” graphic? ‘Cause seriously, no one but Mama Shakes will do for this one.

Although a cat macro might do in a pinch.

This is the kind of shit that’s in the news every day. (And about every subject, of course, but fat’s what I do.) “Scientists” make asinine statements, which are reported with no follow-up questions (e.g., “Respectfully, sir, mightn’t a genetic influence on birth weight be a more plausible explanation for these results than fucking zombie fat?”), no investigation into who’s making these statements and who’s funding them, and no goddamned critical thinking about what they’ve just put into print.

Like, say, the conclusion to both this research and this article:

Ideally, the researchers conclude, women would lower their odds of having an overly large baby by preventing their own excess weight gain in the first place.

Well, shit. And me without my flux capacitor.

I guess all I can do now is add a LOT more kegels to my daily routine, since between the fat on my body now and the 110 zombie pounds I lost in the late nineties, I’m poised to have, like, a 40-lb. baby someday.

Of course, for all my finger-pointing, I’m not above making my own dumb-assed mistakes. Yesterday, I linked to an article discussing why school obesity interventions are uniformly failing. I was in a rush (on my way to — gasp! — exercise), so I just posted a round-up of fat news. Which meant I didn’t read all those articles as closely as I would if I were intending to rip them apart.

I did, however, read closely enough to ensure that none of them had little ludicrosity bombs tucked in among the logic, as is so often the case. (Well, the Slate article did, but I acknowledged that.) Articles that say things like, “Dieting damages your health and ultimately makes you fatter, so obviously, fat people need to go on permanent diets” are sadly common. Even more common are articles that say, “A new study shows fat’s not really that bad for your health… In conclusion, fat’s really, really bad for your health.” So I’m wary of linking to articles I haven’t combed over for such statements. And I combed that KC Star article pretty well.

I just didn’t notice it had a second page. I’m smart like that.

Meowser noticed, bless her heart. On page two, we have this:

“If the mother is eating Cheetos and white bread, the fetus will be born with those taste buds. If the mother is eating carrots and oatmeal, the child will be born with those taste buds,” said Robert Trevino of the Social and Health Research Center in San Antonio.

Quick, name three foods your mother loved/loves, which she almost certainly ate while pregnant, and which you cannot fucking stand. Did it take you longer than 10 seconds? I DIDN’T THINK SO. I mean, a three-year-old could swat down the logic there.

But “experts” say it, writers write it, editors publish it. Somehow, nobody in that chain questions it. So — setting aside the fat panic for a moment — women once again get the message that their children are not separate human beings with separate minds, bodies, and tastebuds; they are mere reflections of their mothers’ personal choices. Meowser pretty much sums it up when she calls such statements “anti-feminist, regressive, guiltbaggery.” And by regressive, she means, like, a good 600 years. As Jess put it in comments: “And if the mother is scared by a goat during pregnancy, her child will be born with cloven hooves.”

These things? Are why I get THAT WAY.

28 thoughts on “Zombie Fat and Tastebud Transmission: WTP?

  1. I read that Reuters article about fat women birthing ginormous babies three times, and nowhere did they explain what they consider an “abnormally large” baby to be. 10 pounds? 15 pounds? Two metric tons? I hate to be the ones to break it to them, but should I tamper with my gene pool and produce a baby, odds are super-good the kid’s going to come out built like a brick shithouse–I come from a long line of bruisers. There isn’t anyone in my family (including extended) that’s below 5’9″. I could winnow myself down to an “ideal” weight and I’d still give birth to Gamera. Because genetics are hilarious, and A SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN FACT OF LIFE.

  2. oh I totally get THAT WAY too.

    No piece of journalism is ever neutral. I keep having to remind myself that.

    Great analysis of how the media handles the news here, Its fuelling the dissertation plans nicely.


  3. So why is having a tiny baby supposed to be desirable anyway? Isn’t low birth weight supposed to be unusually risky, not just to the survival of the fetus during and immediately after birth, but for all kinds of potential health complications for life?

    And next question to the zombie-fat theorist: “So, what you’re saying is that if you’re fat and you want to get pregnant, don’t bother losing any weight unless you are unusually estrogenic to the point where you’ve become infertile, because otherwise it won’t do you any good except to get your lipophobic doctor off your back?”

    Feh. Reporters nowadays are hired because they’re cute, not because they’re probing.

  4. The sad thing is that the conclusion usually drawn is that “Well, if dieting doesn’t work, we’ll just have to get them dieting younger”. I’ve repeatedly seen the futility of dieting used as justification for increased “intervention” of hypothetically fat children to impose dieting behaviors on not these not-fat kids. The conclusion, apparently, being that if dieting doesn’t work and only makes people fatter, then the solution is just to start earlier. Probably as soon as the zombie fat infected kid exits the womb the way things are going.

  5. Meowser, that was one of the questions I had as well. What is an overly large baby? I think a lot of women are afraid of having large babies because they think they’ll need a c-section, but I can’t find anything to support that having a small baby means less chance of c-section.

  6. Well, as far as what counts as a large baby, I read an article recently that suggested any baby born weighing 8 pounds or more is supposedly more likely to be obese as an adult. Gah, it’s so scary to think of mothers out there worrying about their newborns being too fat. Especially after two cases of parents starving their children to death in order to avoid the “obesity crisis.”

  7. See, where my mind went with the zombie fat pronouncement was this: “Hmmm….if fat is OMGBADFORTHECHILDREN!!! and being fat at any point in time before conceiving and birthing a child means that that child is likely to also be OMGFAT, then does that mean that a fat woman becoming pregnant is tantamount to a woman becoming pregnant while taking a highly teratogenic drug?”

    I wish I were kidding, but I’m expecting fat women to be accused of wilfully committing prenatal (pre-conception, even!) child abuse, just by being fat. Because, really, what else is the “logical” conclusion of such asinine statements?

  8. Sndy Szwarc (as you might expect) has some good posts on why low birth weight is a far greater problem than high birth weight:

    […] rate of babies with low birth weights is also increasing […]
    Priority: healthy children
    Healthy, fat moms.

    Not that I’m planning on any kids, but this is one of the things that worries me if I did – being encouraged or forced to have birth interventions simply because I am fat, and not for any legitimate reason. Hell, “normal”-weight women with low-risk birth situations are encouraged to have all kinds of interventions because the ob-gyn needs to get to happy hour at the country club or whatever. Bugger that for a game of soldiers.

  9. My mom loves shrimp, soft-shell crabs, and lobster.

    I am violently allergic to all crustaceans. If I so much as go to one of those Japanese steakhouses where they throw knives around and cook the stuff in front of you, I break out in hives from the shrimp fumes.

    Theory debunked.

    I can’t wait for fat women to start being arrested for endangering their fetii. You know it’s coming.

  10. Pickled herring. My mom is a bit of a freak. And, um, I was only about 6 lbs when I was born. My sister, the skinny one, was a whopping 8 lbs. And my mother was “fatter” (she was never really fat at that point in her life) when she had me. Go figure.

  11. Geez, what’s next? If a pregnant lady looks at a donut, she’ll have a fat baby? Did anyone consider that fat women have fat babies because they eat better and not just MORE?

    When my moms was pregnant with me, she was instructed to eat as much red meat and drink as much whole milk as possible. I was nearly 10 pounds at birth but damn if I’m not a carb addict.

    And hey, maybe now I can blame her for making me fat with all the red meat and dairy, even though it’s my dad’s side of the family that’s heavy and my mom was thin when I was conceived. No one wonders about fat DADS. I’m about to start a rant about sexism and the medical community shaming women about fat so phew, I’ll just chill on that one.

  12. I am a small woman who got knocked up by a small man. Our first child weighed 10.5 lbs and our second nearly 12. TMI, it has never been the same ‘downstairs’ but these giant babies ate well, slept through the night from the word go, and have been healthy, strong and generally ahead of the curve in all respects.

    I was poured over as a medical anomaly after each birth–they tried to worry me about diabetes, VD, you name it they named it as a reason for the kiddos size. They were all up in my face about any weight fluctuations over the past 5 years, the build of my parents, etc. They could find no reason–no historical, genetic, dietary or lurking chronic illness to pin it on. I was informed that if I ever did decide to conceive again, I should seek the care of a nutritionist to avoid possible complications resulting from an even larger viking child. Now what purpose would that serve?

    It was intrusive.

    Just as my constant desire for seared tuna was intrusive enough to my babes to warrant a lifetime of swearing off the stuff.

  13. Actually, I think you’re being overly dismissive of the (potential) findings here. There are a lot of things that affect inheritance of traits and pre-birth development of organisms that aren’t encoded in their genes. For example, with the thing about any history of weight gain increasing the likelihood of a high-weight baby, maybe the hormonal effects that fat can have on the body would affect the way or the kind of eggs in the woman that mature or the function of her reproductive system. I’m just reaching for the first thing that comes to mind, but my point is that development and genetics and reproduction are way more complicated than us science folk like to let on.

  14. my point is that development and genetics and reproduction are way more complicated than us science folk like to let on.

    Fair enough, Sara, but still… when the reporting makes it sound like zombie fat, somebody needs to let us in on a little more of the thinking behind that.

  15. Then again, we often find out that things are true before we find out why they are true. And if all you can do is speculate, you might as well go with the zombie fat explanation – it’s just as useful as anything else.

  16. This is quite puzzling. I laughed at the accurate twist and turning comments you said:
    (Obviously really verbatim)

  17. If the mother is eating Cheetos and white bread, the fetus will be born with those taste buds.

    Okaaaay. And very slightly off topic – but why then is it currently fashionable, (in the UK at least), to dissuade women from eating nuts during pregnancy? Allegedly it’s to avoid the unborn child developing a nut allergy in later life. Surely, if a kid is exposed to nuts in utero it is less likely to be born with an intolerance? I could be wrong and it all sounds like fad-o-the-month nanny state twaddle to me, but I’ve never heard of babies perishing of anaphylaxis in the womb.

    And I was a pemature baby. 4lbs 3 oz at birth and breast fed to boot. Wonder why I’m fat then? D’ya s’pose it might have something to do with having fat, self-loathing, perennially dieting parents at all?

  18. Buffpuff, I believe the thinking there is that allergies develop after exposure to the allergen, so if a fetus is exposed in the womb, it could theoretically come out with an allergy. Having said that, “fad-o-the-month nanny state twaddle” is what it sounds like to me, too.

    Sara, I’m still not sure the zombie fat speculation is just as useful as anything else. I hear what you’re saying, and if a study comes out down the line saying zombie fat really is what causes higher birth weights, I will publicly apologize for the snark, and come to Idaho to buy you dinner. (And that’s not just me being snarky, either. I do my best to be intellectually honest here, even if it means admitting when I’m wrong or confused.)

    But I don’t think all hypotheses are created equal. Sometimes the more outlandish one turns out to be true, but that doesn’t make it less outlandish. And if there’s an obvious explanation that jibes with what IS known about a subject (there’s a strong genetic component to fat), it’s irresponsible not to at least acknowledge that possibility along with the less obvious speculation.

    Again, all I’m criticizing here is the Reuters article, which may not present the study fully or fairly at all. But the Reuters article is what laypeople read, and this shit contributes to shaming fat people and terrifying women into dieting. What have we learned from this article? “Women should not let themselves get fat.” Literally, that’s the conclusion.

    Gee, that’s brand new information. And so helpful.

  19. I guess I also have very, very, very, very – very – low expectations for science reporting. I’m not sure why it goes so wrong so often, but as you can see, it’s made me a little cynical.

    But the restaurant scene here blows. I’ll have to come to you, in the event if scientific proof of zombie fat.

  20. They basically want to say, if you are fat or were EVER fat, you are screwed and so are your kids.

    When I was pregnant with my first, I gained a bunch of weight. I flunked the gestational diabetes test and kept my blood sugar low through diet. I had my 8 lb 13 oz son 1 week after his due date. Sure, he was big, but not huge considering he was 1 week late and I’m 5’8″ myself. I lost 36 lbs of it by my 2-week postpartum check up and eventually got to the weight I am now.

    I flunked the GD test with my 2nd pregnancy at 7 weeks. I took a low dose of insulin at bedtime. My diet was impeccable. I gained 17 lbs (and literally lost the weight in the first 5 days – of course the jiggly bits remained but still) during the pregnancy, had stellar blood sugars. Even the 3-month average was at 5.1 (which is comparable to a non-diabetic), and my baby was almost a week early at 8lbs 8oz. She is even chunkier than my first.

    Anyway, so I’m amused that despite all my healthy eating that my children are “SO BIG”. People think I sat around gorging on ice cream and stuff. No, I think it’s because I had to eat a lot of healthy protein (including nuts – no issues there), salads, etc. Healthy eating makes for big kids, not just excess sugar (though that can certainly happen). Problem is people see fat mom and think bad-fat infants instead of the healthy-fat infants.

  21. Fascinating rant- Zombie fat, eh? Apparently I inherited all my mother’s, then. Mom gained over a hundred pounds while pregnant with me. I came early weighing in at five pounds. I was never a fat child, but by age 2 I was solidly built- shocked people with how heavy I was, when they picked me up. I hit five feet seven inches in height, and 130 lbs, by age 12.

    When I got pregnant, I was not “Fat” by any medical standards- my bodyfat percentage was low because my muscle mass was high. Son was born weighing 10 lbs, 2.5 ounces. They told me, “Oh, well, you probably had too much sugar in your diet” and made me watch myself like a diabetic during pregnancy 2. (I have never been diabetic, not even while pregnant. I am hypoglycemic, for christ’s sake.) I was good as gold, watched my pounds, ate healthy, avoided carbs…. the result? Second son was 10 lbs, 1.5 ounces… and induced 3 weeks before due date. But alas, he came with jaundice and breathing problems, and has turned out dyslexic. And one idiot pediatrician tried to blame that on his “High birthweight.” Yeah. Right. That’s why his brother, who weighed an ounce more, started reading at 2.

    I take every bit of information out of the medical community as a potential case of “The sky is falling!” … at least half the time, that turns out to be the case. This whole Zombie fat pregnancy angle? Probably more of the same.

  22. Meowser the advantage of having a tiny baby is that otherwise you will totally screw up your designer vagina.

  23. This isn’t totally on topic, but I’ll share anyway:

    Being thin doesn’t necessarily guarantee you won’t have a big fucking baby, either. Pre-pregnancy, my mom weighed about 110 pounds. She gained about 25 pounds and had no major health issues during her pregnancy.

    Still, Baby Sharn weighed 10 lbs, 8 oz at birth. My teeny tiny mom gave birth to a normal, healthy baby that weighed about ONE TENTH AS MUCH AS SHE DID. 24 years later, I’m still normal and healthy… and fat.

  24. My mother craved raw meat when I was in utero. I’ve been a vegetarian now since I was 10 years old, and I really never liked meat to begin with.


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