In my job I have cause to flip through seemingly endless pages of journals; checking for the completeness and clean look of each issue. (Hey folks, just remember that photocopies exist in libraries…stop ripping out pages or marking them with pens/pencils, k?) And in my flipping through one science title I’ve found many interesting articles regarding Fat and/or Obesity. This journal goes back a long way. I’m talking about “Science News” (previously titled “The Science News-Letter”) and here I want to share a few article titles and quotes from issues throughout the decades.
Something that I find very notable, is how some quotes will reference knowledge as explicit or “established” which, even today, is pooh-poohed away as erroneous or simply delusions of lazy fatties (*cough*DietsDon’tWork*cough* *sneeze*GenesPlayALargePart*sneeze*).
I’ve cited each tidbit for anyone wishing to pursue any entire articles.* Any bolding is my own and is added as an emphasis to points I find interesting.
“Fatness May be Hereditary.” The Science News-Letter, Vol. 8, No. 260 (Apr. 3, 1926), p. 4
“Since it has been established that the rate of metabolism, or exchange of food into energy, of the obese is normal, some physiologists have tried to account for the surplus of fat on the grounds of heredity… As one authority has remarked, the large amount of public interest in obesity is in marked contrast to the small amount of scientific information. We do not yet really know why the fat are fat.“
“Goldfish Experiments May Explain Cause of Obesity.” The Science News-Letter, Vol. 21, No. 574 (Apr. 9, 1932), p. 231
“Two of the fish were fed beef muscle and the other two were fed and equal amount by weight of ground up glandular substance from the reproductive glands of a ram. The ones getting the beef muscle gained more weight than those getting the glandular substance….this may have a bearing on the cause and treatment of obesity.”
“Dieting Improves Health of Over-Fat Children.” The Science News-Letter, Vol. 28, No. 764 (Nov. 30, 1935), pp. 340-341
“Since some of the overweight of obesity is due to the retention of water by the body tissues, especially when a high carbohydrate diet is eaten, fluids were limited to 15 to 20 ounces daily, and salt not to exceed 15 grains, because it, too, is concerned with water storage in the body.”
“Record-Breaking Case of Weight Reduction Reported.” The Science News-Letter, Vol. 40, No. 8 (Aug. 23, 1941), p. 116
“She has always been a ‘fat girl’…Since it seemed unlikely that she could exercise sufficient self-control during the reducing period, she was placed in a nursing home where she would have no chance of raiding the pantry, no matter how hungry she became. Total calories were between 600 and 800 a day…the patient was anything but comfortable at times, and complained of nausea and abdominal pains. “
“Growth-Rate of Human Body Fixed Even before Birth Growth-Rate of Human Body Fixed Even before Birth.” The Science News-Letter, Vol. 41, No. 15 (Apr. 11, 1942), p. 231
“Long before we are born, probably from the hour of conception itself, the rate at which our bodies will grow has been established, and with it also the rates of growth of the various parts of our bodies. “
“Find First Evidence for Inherited Obesity in Mice Find First Evidence for Inherited Obesity in Mice.” The Science News-Letter, Vol. 59, No. 13 (Mar. 31, 1951), p. 195
“For the first time, evidence of a hereditary obesity in mice has been discovered. The hereditary trait is a recessive, and it is also the first evidence for such a trait in any animal other than man.”
“Early Second Teeth May Foretell Overweight.” The Science News-Letter, Vol. 62, No. 19 (Nov. 8, 1952), p. 300
“Children who get their second teeth early may be destined to be fat little boys and girls and overweight men and women struggling with reducing diets.”
“Motive Needed to Make Men Try to Lose Weight.” The Science News-Letter, Vol. 67, No. 6 (Feb. 5, 1955), p. 94
“Needed: A motivating force, social, fashion or otherwise, to make men ‘strive for slimness’ the way women have.“
“Winning the Weight Battle.” The Science News-Letter, Vol. 85, No. 15 (Apr. 11, 1964), pp. 230+239
“If you want to have normal weight you can – if you are normal and have will power. …[P]atients most likely to be successful in weight reduction have the following characteristics: 5. Obesity developed in adult life rather than in childhood. 6. They have no previous history of losing weight and then putting it all back on again.”
“Curing the Obese; Diuretics Questioned” Science News, Vol. 92, No. 16 (Oct. 14, 1967), pp. 377+379
“The idea that excessive weight is partly the result of too much water is a medical hypothesis that has gained considerable currency. … Pharmaceutical companies continue to advertise, even in their displays outside the conference hall, the ‘precious adjuvant’ that diuretics are in obesity therapy. One actually claimed that obesity is ‘always’ linked to water retention.”
“Obesity and Behavior” Science News, Vol. 106, No. 5 (Aug. 3, 1974), p. 76
“Consider the chastity-belt theory of fatness, for instance. Chastity belts are no longer in vogue, but some insecure husbands may have come up with an equally cruel method of trying to keep their wives from fooling around. [H]usbands sometimes encourage their wives to overeat and gain weight in order to keep the wives unattractive and, supposedly, faithful. While most purely medical approaches to weight loss yield a success rate of about 10 percent, McConnell and Smith claim that their behavioral clinic has a success rate of better than 70 percent. Not everyone, of course, can lose weight on their own by the behavior method.”
“Jaw Wiring: Tough Anti-Obesity Weapon.” Science News, Vol. 112, No. 2 (Jul. 9, 1977), p. 23
“Medical approaches to helping extremely obese patients to lose weight – agents to increase diet bulk, suppress appetite and induce malabsorption – are not particularly successful. Intestinal bypass surgery may be more effective but it can physically harm if not kill patients… Jaw wiring appears to be fairly well tolerated by patients and is as effective as, but safer than, intestinal bypass surgery for the extremely obese. The major risk – choking – is minimized by correct posturing during vomiting.”
“Weight Watchers: We Weigh a Bit More.” Science News, Vol. 113, No. 2 (Jan. 14, 1978), p. 22
“Obesity stands accused in a wide range of medical problems, but there has been no good estimate of its prevalence in the United States…. Although the Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected data on heights and weights of the participants, the obesity results are based on measurements of the thickness of a pinch of skin…. This standard is based on the concept that a healthy adult should not become fatter with age. Patterns of adult weight gain, however, are apparent in the data collected in the survey. This survey is intended as a start to a national nutrition surveillance system…”
“Hypertension and Weight Control Hypertension and Weight Control.” Science News, Vol. 113, No. 3 (Jan. 21, 1978), p. 39
“Numerous studies have reinforced the link between obesity and hypertension, and weight loss has been associated repeatedly with a decrease in blood pressure. But reduced salt intake and drug therapy, not weight loss, are often called for in the treatment of hypertension. Classic studies… established salt consumption as a casual factor in hypertension and suggested that a drop in blood pressure with weight loss was due entirely to a concurrent decrease in salt intake.”
“The Fat American” Science News, Vol. 113, No. 12 (Mar. 25, 1978), pp. 188-189
“The bulk of the research thus far suggests – in contrast to some previously held opinions – that ‘there is no single kind of obesity and no one obese personality type’. ‘Fat people are more easily aroused’, says the psychologist. ‘They are more susceptible to food cues – food turns them on!’ ‘We don’t know if it [the mechanism] is [primarily] genetically predisposed or acquired,’ says Rodin. ‘But we know that being fat can keep you fat and for many people its a losing battle. Of all the human frailties obesity is perhaps the most perverse.'”
“Don’t Overestimate the Power of Diet.” Science News, Vol. 117, No. 22 (May 31, 1980), p. 343
“The people who brought you the Recommended Daily Allowances for essential nutrients hold that scientific information is not yet adequate to provide much in further guidelines for a healthful diet to prevent disease.”
“Chemical Clue to Obesity Found.” Science News, Vol. 118, No. 19 (Nov. 8, 1980), p. 295
“Overeating may not be the only cause of obesity, says three Harvard Medical School researchers in the Oct 30 New England Journal of Medicine. Their finding of a cellular defect in obese people may indicate why some people maintain their weight on a diet that causes obesity in others.“
“New Weight-Height Chart: It’s OK to Weigh a Little More than Before.” Science News, Vol. 123, No. 11 (Mar. 12, 1983), p. 165
“…within each age group extremely thin, as well as extremely fat, people have higher mortality rates. …the new weight/height chart reflects the same thing the old one did:…People should strive to be neither excessively overweight nor excessively underweight.“
“Weighty Problems More Fat than Fancy.” Science News, Vol. 127, No. 8 (Feb. 23, 1985), p. 119
“While estimating that 34 million people in the United States are more than 20 percent over their ideal weight, the panel bemoaned the lack of a good standard weight table that takes into consideration age, build and whether a 6 foot tall 220 pounder happens to be a muscular football player or an idle endomorph. In the absence of such a table they recommend the 1983 Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. tables. Several of those who presented data to the panel were not particularly please with the life insurance tables.”
“Weight Loss: An Unwinnable War?” Science News, Vol. 127, No. 13 (Mar. 30, 1985), p. 195
“Except for certain risky surgical treatments there is no truly successful means of permanent weight loss available today. Since the five year failure rate of the most closely monitored weight loss treatments hovers at over 95 percent, and since repeated attempts to lose weight are much more strongly correlated with degenerative diseases (and eating disorders) than fatness per se, one wonders what the medical profession has accomplished with the recent NIH conference which declared that ‘obesity is a health-threatening condition’ (“Weighty problems more fat than fancy”). They may voe to fight fat, but with what weapons?”
“Metabolism Studies Predict Obesity.” Science News, Vol. 132, No. 20 (Nov. 14, 1987), p. 309
“Common sense might say that a ‘slow’ metabolism makes a person more likely to become overweight. While scientists have found this a difficult notion to confirm, one group has shown that a low metabolic rate is indeed a risk factor for obese Indians of southern Arizona.“
“Body Shape: In the Eye of the Receptor?” Science News, Vol. 133, No. 4 (Jan. 23, 1988), pp. 54-55
“The shape of our bodies – whether bottom-heavy or thick-in-the-middle – may be related to hormone-binding structures on the surface of fat cells. As a result, while we may be able to shrink in size, changing our proportions through dieting may be nearly impossible…”
“Cyclic Weight Gain May Harm the Heart Cyclic Weight Gain May Harm the Heart.” Science News, Vol. 139, No. 26 (Jun. 29, 1991), p. 407
“It may be worse to have lost pounds and regained them then never to have dieted at all – from a life-expectancy standpoint, at least. ‘Persons whose body weight fluctuates often or greatly have a higher risk of coronary heart disease and death than do persons with relatively stable body weights.'”
“Fanfare over Finding First Fat Gene.” Science News, Vol. 146, No. 23 (Dec. 3, 1994), p. 372
“Eight years of genetic sleuthing finally paid off this week for scientists seeking to understand the much studied, much lamented problem of obesity. For the first time, molecular geneticists have identified and made copies of a gene essential for keeping the body’s weight stable... Yet even if these obese mice don’t slim down, the discovery should have far-reaching effects. ‘I think it will change the way we think about obesity and the way we do obesity research…'”
“A Toxic Side of Weight Loss.” Science News, Vol. 166, No. 3 (Jul. 17, 2004), pp. 35-36
“Weight loss is only frustrating, its also complicated. Scientists expect a person’s metabolism to slow as he or she loses weight, but there’s sometimes more of a drop than the equations predict. Researchers call this excessive slowdown ‘adaptive thermogenesis’, although they don’t fully understand why the body’s internal furnace sometimes changes efficiency in what seems to be an effort to minimize weight loss.“
“Weight-Loss Costs.” Science News, Vol. 168, No. 17 (Oct. 22, 2005), pp. 260-261
“Obese people who opt for weight-loss surgery incur increased odds of subsequent hospitalization and, in some groups, a substantial risk of death… Even so, some of the scientists say those risks may be justified.”
“XXL from Too Few Zs?.” Science News, Vol. 169, No. 13 (Apr. 1, 2006), pp. 195-196
“Skimping on sleep might cause obesity, diabetes. Widespread sleep deprivation could partly explain the current epidemics of both obesity and diabetes, emerging data suggest.”
“Inherited Burden? Early Menarche in Moms Tied to Obesity in Kids.” Science News, Vol. 171, No. 17 (Apr. 28, 2007), pp. 259-260
“Women who reach puberty at an unusually early age are more likely to have children who are overweight, a study finds. Meanwhile, scientists noted that early menarche runs in families.”
“Weighting for Friends: Obesity Spreads in Social Networks.” Science News, Vol. 172, No. 4 (Jul. 28, 2007), p. 51
“Although a variety of personality traits influence weight gain, obesity is socially contagious, moving from person to person through networks of friends and relatives, a new investigation finds. Genes and other biological factors influence individuals’ weights ‘but genes can’t explain the obesity epidemic of the past 30 years’ Gillman says.”
“Ear infections make fatty food sound good” Science News Magazine, Aug. 20, 2008.
“”Childhood ear infections may not just put hearing at risk. Kids who get them may develop a strong affinity for fatty foods and could be predisposed to obesity, surveys now suggest. Researchers suspect that infections of the middle ear may alter the sense of taste by damaging a nerve that carries sensations from the tongue to the brain.”
Here are some thoughts I have after going through this long (but far from comprehensive) list of results for a search of “Obesity”:
- Much, if not all, of the above research from the earliest times are beginning with the idea that Fat is the aberrant body form. There is no research indicated which simply does not assume that being “over” a particular weight is the aberration to be explored.
- Research continues to find (and yet scientists continue to be “surprised”) that weight seems to be linked to genetics; yet this is always ended with the “NO Excuse to stop aiming for thin-dom” line because writers and researchers alike seem to feel that such findings might make people not only feel okay with their bodies but might mean they would *gasp* stop dieting if indeed there was not strong evidence that it would ever work to make them thinner permanently!
- The number one underlying assumption that seems to fuel any research in regards to fat is that “Fatties Overeat”. Whether they are trying to explain how we somehow don’t KNOW we’re overeating, whether we have broken metabolisms, whether we don’t get that satiety signal soon enough…the fault either lies with something broken that makes us gobble down calories with wild abandon…or a lack of freaking will-power that makes us slovenly excuses for flesh-sacks unable to get off the TV chair to work off the doughnuts. Just look above at the plethora of ways, throughout time, that research has tried to link obesity to overeating and the (sometimes horrific) list of ways crafted to “combat” this Impulse to Indulge.
- If not a cause of simply not knowing when to stop eating food; research is determined to find the most insane possible reason that fat happens to exist in more prevalence for some of us. Brown fat? Virus? Too much water? Not enough sleep? Early Onset Menarche? Ear Infections?!?!?
- Has there honestly never been research performed that DIDN’T involve making a force-fed mouse obese “magically” thin through various means? Does no one ever stop to think that yes, maybe the folks who DO have an easy time losing weight are those who gained later in life above the natural set point (such as is the case with force-fed mice)? That maybe folks who have been life-long fatties aren’t really lying when they insist they do NOT eat all day long while lounging on the Bon-Bon Couch and perhaps are AT their body’s natural size already???
If nothing else, perhaps this little time-line of headlines can show just how far we’ve come…and how little progress we’ve made.
- They STILL do not know how to make a fat person permanently thin.
- Surprise still coats the face of any science that shows again and again that genes tend to support a diversity of size and shape in the human population
- Similar shock taints any research showing again that “overweight” or even “obese” may not pose the Dire Health consequences that might be feared for common sense’s sake: “..according to the authors’ findings, compared to ‘normal’ BMIs, ‘overweight’ (BMI 25-<30) and ‘obese’ (BMI 30 up to 35, which includes about 80% of all obese people) are associated with a 25% to 12% lower risk of dying. And the risks associated with the ‘morbidly obese’ (BMIs 35+) are statistically the same as those with ‘normal’ BMIs.
So at the end of the day: Try to take scientific findings, and the media wrapped trappings in which they reach our ears, with a grain of salt. (But remember, no more than 15 a day!) Remember that the more things change, the more things stay the same. And no matter how many times it is excitedly reported “New Gene Found: Might be Cause of Obesity! (But…you should totally still diet…uh…because Fat: EW!)”; it is not new news folks….it is a song that has been sung for many a decade. And it has still not manged to “cure” the Fat. So, Why are we Fat? As said in the 1920’s: “We do not yet really know why the fat are fat.” Still.
*JSTOR is a fantastic database for looking up these older issues. Check if your school or local library has a subscription!