A bit more Fascinating History of Fat

I know I’ve already done a historical perspective on Why are we Fat: a time-line of some articles found in Science News regarding the views on fat through the ages.  But I wanted to share something which comes from even earlier than the earliest article I found in my search of that particular title that might just give pause for a moment. (Bear in mind the writing in this article uses old English styles of “s” [which resembles an “f”] and “v” used in place of “u”s writings so reading it was a bit difficult at first, if fascinating.  Hopefully I haven’t mis-spelled any of the words, aside from replacing the “f”s with “s”s, I’ve left the original spellings and capitalization as well as the italics.)  The bolding for emphasis is, however, all my own.

An Observation about the Epiploon, or the double Membrane, which covers the Entrails of Animals, and is filled with Fat.

The Epiploon, being look’d upon by a good Microscope, is like a great Sack full of abundance of other small Sacks, which do inclose gatherings of Grease or Fat. There are many vessels which may be call’d Adipose or Fatty, which issue out of this membrane, and spreading themselves all over the Body, conveigh Fat to it, just as the Arteries carry the Blood all over the same. Whereever is Fat or Grease, there is found store of these little sacks, wherein that is inclosed; when it is, that in lean and emaciated Bodies, instead of Fat, you find nothing but Skins.

The structure of these Small Sacks, and of the adipous Vessels, sufficiently sheweth, that the Fat is not formed accidentally out of the thick Vapours of the Blood, as is the common belief: Nor is its chief use to soment the natural Heat; but it seems rather to conduce to the allaying of the Acrimony of the Salts, that are in the Blood and the Serosities. And indeed (saith this Author) lean persons, and those whose Epiploon hath been cut, are more subject than others to Rheumatisms, Lienteries, and the diseases that are caused by the sharpness of the Humours. And those that are fat, are not so easily seized on by them, in regard the Acrimony of the serosities is corrected by the mixture of the Fat, just as the sharpest Lixivium will lose its force, if Oil be mingled therewith. (An Observation about the Epiploon, or the Double Membrane, Which Covers the Entrails of Animals, and is Filled with Fat. Philosophical Transactions (1665-1678), Vol. 2, (1666 – 1667), pp. 552-553.)

When was this written you ask?  Well, as you might have guessed from the odd language and note about spellings, it is old.  1667’s old.  Almost 350 years ago.  350 long years ago it was suggested that perhaps people (perfons) that are fat are not so easily susceptible to the diseases that might prey more strongly upon those not so fortunate as to hold such stores in their “Body”. Granted, they were using the concepts of “Humours” and “Vapours”, which has long since been revealed as no longer applicable to modern medicine (who else wonders what sort of articles printed now might be read 350 years in the future with a giggle-snort at our archaic beliefs about how the Body worked??) Yet tell me if this old item brings to mind anything we might have seen more recently…

Though no one wants to be labeled overweight, new research shows overweight people live longer than underweight, normal weight and obese people.” (Experts say being moderately overweight may be good for you – Jan 7, 2009)

Anyone else feel like medical science has been going in circles for a very long freaking time, getting no-where???

Just some history this morning for thought-provoking purposes.


9 thoughts on “A bit more Fascinating History of Fat

  1. April, you’ve really made my day. This is just too funny.

    And those that are fat, are not so easily seized on by them

    The ‘obesity paradox’ indeed. I’m sure I read a quote somewhere that said they’d been aware of the paradox for oh, at least 10 years. I was doubtful then, but even I wouldn’t have suspected.

    who else wonders what sort of articles printed now might be read 350 years in the future with a giggle-snort at our archaic beliefs about how the Body worked??

    Oh stop it, you’re killing me. Seriously, probably the whole of ‘obesity science’ which might actually be impossible to explain as it doesn’t even make much sense today.

    But I think that the future will be appalled by Gastric Bypass Surgery in particular.

  2. Until the advent of processed foods, being fat was an outward sign of a good diet. If you get enough calories and nutrients, and are not starving at regular intervals, it turns out that your body is stronger. Whether or not adipose tissue in and of itself is healthful is something science is still working out, but almost everyone agrees that a good and varied diet has a positive impact on the immune system.

  3. I wish I had something intelligent to respond, but I’m just so delighted by the idea that I have an “epiploon” that I can’t think of anything else. My new favourite body part!

  4. Heh. I had to look up the Epiploon (Also called the Greater Omentum) and found that it is the: large fold of peritoneum that hangs down from the stomach, and extends from the stomach to the posterior abdominal wall after associating with the transverse colon. (wikipedia).

    What gets me the most is the part about blood not being formed accidentally by the Vapours, as was common belief. And still today we’re trying to “figure out” what forms fat… genetics, over consumption as per “common belief”, environment, grease…yadda yadd.

    And Wriggles I’d have to say that WLS might indeed be particularly shocking in 350 years. But I’d think the plethora of references to meticulous calorie counting will be the most head-shakingly puzzling in the future (“You mean…every day? They would count every single calorie? Just to stay below some particular level?? As if that mattered or could permanently affect their Body???” *future-style giggle-snort*)

  5. For more historical perspective on fat, check out “Never Satisfied: A Cultural History of Diets, Fantasies, and Fat” by Hillel Schwartz. It’s a really cool book. My favorite part was the concept of buoyancy, whereby heavy people who felt light were considered healthiest, and light people who felt heavy were considered unhealthy.

  6. Pingback: Fun with old Science News Letter article titles « I AM in shape. ROUND is a shape.

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