Hating Fat

Is hating fat people the new poltically correct prejudice?

It seems that being racist is not tolerated, being sexist is uncool, but picking on fat people is perfectly fine.

You don't have to browse far to find forums where fat people are stereotyped as lazy, gluttoness unhealthy slobs, the very same forums where racist comments would be moderated or removed.

There are so many fallacies about obesity out there, being propogated by 'experts' and journalists, that it is only fair that someone (me) makes an attempt to put things right.

1./ Obesity is the result of eating too much

This fallacy often comes in the form of a paraphrasing of the 1st law of thermodynamics, the belief that weight gain is simply the result of an inbalance between energy input and energy output. Of course, the great 18th and 19th century physicists who came up with the laws of thermodynamics would have never imagined it would be used in this way. To reduce the complex biological mechanisms of the human body to a simple machine is of course ridiculous. When a person eats too much they do indeed gain weight in the same way as a person who breathes too much will hyperventilate. But no-one breathes too much for long, so why should we expect a person to eat too much against the dictates of their apetite?

If the body did not have a complex mechanism for controlling calorie intake then you would have to wonder how we manage to maintain a fairly constant weight? Afterall, even people classed obese stay at a fixed weight. In fact, the extra energy required to maintain 20kgs of adipose tissue is very insignificant compared to the bodies total energy requirements. It is therefore clear that a fat person who maintains their weight eats roughly the same amount of calories as a skinny person who maintains his or her weight where background metabolism rates are assumed the same.
But if reasoning alone is not enough to demonstrate how crazy it would be if the only thing controlling our weight was self-control , then we can look at what scientists have found when they ask people to force-feed themselves.

In the 1960's a scientist recruited skinny prison inmates for a study. They were asked to overeat and put on weight. They all managed to do this, but not without difficulty. Some consumed up to 10,000 calories a day, and it took 4-6 months to gain 20-25% of their original weight. The scientists observed that their metabolisms increased by 50%. When the study ended they all returned to their original weight within months. The study showed that skinny people do not become fat people by eating too much.

2./ Obesity is caused by McDonalds.

Apparently everyone these days is a scientist observing what fat people do in the supermarket, and the results are in, everyone has seen a fat person eating McDonalds, drinking coke and eating donuts. Interestingly no one notices bad food habits if the consumer is skinny. If there is one thing all these observations tell us, it is that if you are fat, look out, because people are watching everything you do!
Now, I don't want to say all food is good, but really, if anyone can come up with a definition of a junk food that doesn't accidentilly also include 'breast milk' then I would like to hear it!
The fact is, a McDonalds hamburger is a food, it is not gourmet, it is not special, but it really has no ingredient in it that can magically turn a skinny person into a fat person. In fact, when it comes to calorie levels, it is hardly remarkable either, as you would expect in a combination of lean beef, mayonaise salad and white bread. If McDonalds is really responsible for making us all fat, then I would love to hear the reasoning.

3./ Fat people need to lose weight.

If there is one thing that annoys me more than bad science, it is Big Nanny trying to tell us how to live. But then if there is one thing more annoying than both bad science and Big Nanny, it would have to be Big Nanny spouting off bad science!

Suppose I were to consider that red-haired people are more prone to sun-burn than dark-haired people, would I be justified in assuming that the best way a red-haired person can be sun-smart is by dyeing their hair black?

The zillion dollar question that no-one seems to be asking is:  Do fat people get health benefits from losing weight?

Of course, this is somewhat a stupid question, as we know that losing weight is in most cases just a temporary condition caused by changes to diet, and cannot be maintained long term. Well I lie, some people do it, and they do it by will-power power against natural appetite. They live with a lowered metabolism and constant desire to eat more than they let themselves. The fact that some people can do this is remarkable, as I know myself that food is so yummy, and hunger makes the worst food taste good!

But supposing we were to test the hypothesis that fat people who lose weight live longer than fat people who don't, then we would need to run a trial with volunteer fat people. We would randomly choose some to diet and others to not diet. We would try to keep the dieters as skinny for as long as possible to see whether they fair better in total health compared those who were told not to diet. Of course, the study would not be double-blind or placebo, but surely that does not matter. The placebo affect of dieting is worth testing as this is a part of reality.

The question then is not what would this study find? but why this study has never been done? Or, if it has been done, why has it been so hidden?

This zillion dollar question is the heart of the recommendation that everyone gives to fat people. Without an answer to this question, it is impossible to justify a public recommendation. The advice to tell fat people to diet for the sake of their health is based entirely on speculation.

But, the fat-hater will say. Fat people die younger, therefore being fat makes you unhealthy.

Here then the fat-apologist is swept off his feet by two apprent false-hoods. The fat-apologist will point out that correlation does not prove causation, but then get side-tracked in showing that the correlation is false anyway!

The figures may vary from one study to another, but to quote a population study performed in Canada (http://www.nature.com/oby/journal/v18/n1/abs/oby2009191a.html) you will see that in fact that adipose tissue is not the cancerous growth we have been told.

Weight RangeIncreased risk of dying
BMI <18  (underweight)+73%
BMI 18-25 (normal)0
BMI 25-30  (overweight) -17%
BMI 30-35  (obese)-5%
BMI >35 (morbidly obese)+36%

So, yes, one could say being morbidly obese increases ones risk of dying, but still note that being obese has the same risk as being normal, and being morbidly obese has nothing on being underweight when it comes to dying!

So if we for one moment let the fat-haters have their way and assume that correlation is proof of causation, what should we recommend? that everyone should who isn't overweight (BMI 25-30) should gain or lose weight until they are?

4./ If obesity is not caused by bad diets but is entirely genetic, then why is obesity increasing?

Of course the fact that one hypothesis does not fully explain a situation, is no excuse for falling back to a worse hypothesis. In the last century we have seen an increase in average height in Western populations. Height we know is a strongly genetic determined outcome, yet it is increasing measurably within a few generations.
Of course, obesity could be entirely genetic, and we are inadvertantly selecting for it, or we could pull the "epigenetic" rabbit out of the hat. Epigenetics is a new area of scientific research, and it certainly comes to the aid where traditional genetics fail. It studies how environmental factors affect which genes get switched on. The general proposition is that it allows quick fix evolution where natural selection would be just too slow.
Assuming that epigentic changes have logical survival advantages then it really throws open some interesting possibilities for explaining increases in obesity. Now consider this one:

A woman concerned about her weight chooses to diet. She starves herself till she loses some weight, but then invetiably the body takes over and regains that weight. So she does it over and over again, simulating an environment that has sporadic supply of food. What would the epigenetic ramifications likely to be? how do our genes react in such circumstances to provide the best survival possibility for the next generation?
Now if I was evolution, I would craft a human being to develop larger potential stores of fat knowing environmental conditions will require it! I hypothesis that the offspring of the compulsive dieter are likely to have more adipose tissue, and greater tendancy to being fat to cope with an uncertain environment.

I don't say that this is why we are getting fatter, there are probably many other environmental factors tweaking our gene switches. In other ways I see that a society that hates fat people will also force fat people to become a sub-class, and force fat people to only reproduce with other fat people, this too will increase the expression of fat genes.

If we really want to declare war on obesity, then we will certainly have to stoop to committing genocide, and stop fat people from breeding. Of course I hope even the most ardent fat-hater will realise that this is distasteful.