Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Obesity Pandemic

     I enjoyed listening to the discussion in class today about metabolism, food intake, and its relation to the worldwide obesity crisis. This issue is particularly interesting; many people are quite passionate about health and weight loss, and because the results are visible, the subject tends towards being highly opinionated, even polarizing. There are a TON of programs, doctrines, etc. about maintaining a healthy weight, and just as much literature in criticism of these methods.

     In our discussion in class, it seemed to me that every point of disagreement ended in an unanswered question. I believe that we are missing some vital information, that we don't adequately understand the process of taking nutrition and distributing it throughout the body. This is not surprising; the endocrine system is absurdly complex.

     On Netflix, there is a show called Superhumans where Stan Lee (the guy who created The Incredible Hulk, Spiderman, and others) sends a guy around the world to find people who claim superhuman abilities in real life, and puts them under scientific scrutiny. One man they met in Sacramento used pheromones extracted from bees in order to cover his body with over 100,000 bees, without being stung a single time. Incredible.

     If a chemical factor can control this number of bees in such an fashion, it is not unrealistic to assume their role in our body may play as significant a role. Sexual drive, satiation, and emotional states are all regulated by these hormones, and I think it would be difficult to find someone who could consciously control all of these urges. I think people's addiction to fast food is a good example of this; many people understand these foods are unhealthy, yet they still find themselves returning for more french fries. It's difficult even to sit with a group of people eating this food and not end up getting some for yourself.

     However, it is also true that lifestyle and conscious choice has a HUGE role in physical fitness and weight maintenance. Regardless of one's genetic or epigenetic predispositions, a good diet and frequent exercise will almost always yield a healthy weight, when appropriately individualized. If an organism has sufficient but not excessive nutrients, and purpose to allocate them (exercise), it will typically do so and maintain fitness.
     The issue in regards to the obesity pandemic is not, I think, about whether one can maintain a healthy metabolism if they make all the right decisions. Humans are rather imperfect, and make mistakes every day. Public health policy cannot expect the entire population to hold themselves to a specific, individually designed fitness plan that works. This is especially true when mass-produced food means communities receive similar diets. There is a lot of evidence, and has been for some time, that the food industry's use of cheaper (or better mind-controlling) ingredients in food has played a part in this crisis.

     With social tolerance of these establishments that are altering the molecular make-up of the food eaten by the majority of the population, the issue goes far beyond simple personal responsibility. This is especially true in light of the economic factors that prevent access to healthier alternatives. The fact that some of the poorest areas in America (cough...Alabama/Mississippi) are also the most obese supports this premise. If these communities are also lacking in education, which is also more common in areas of low income, they are less likely to even be fully aware of the risks involved with their lifestyle.
     This is one of the functions government was designed for. Yet instead, our elected officials cozy up to the profits acquired by partnerships with the businesses selling the junk. I can't propose a solution to this problem, and I am uncertain how one goes about breaking these enormous financial ties between these "elites". As future scientists, our responsibility is to discover the mechanisms involved in metabolism and weight maintenance, and provide research so irrefutable that the people force their representatives to act.
     I'm taking the Non-Infectious Disease class that John is teaching this quarter, and we covered Diabetes last week. These videos about metabolic disorders and their link to diabetes and obesity were incredibly illuminating, yet simultaneously made me aware of how little we understand. Even aside of the terrible health problems experienced by diabetics and obese individuals, every teenager has either experienced or seen the psychological damage caused by obesity. Think of all the people who might contribute their gifts and ideas to society, but lack the necessary self-confidence due to their superficial appearance. This is certainly a major issue in our post-industrial era.

Thanks for reading my long-winded rant. haha

Matt Pautz

The Global Diabetes Epidemic (NY Times)

1 comment:

Claudia Tyler said...

Thanks for posting, Matt. I just finished watching the youtube clip you including on "The Skinny on Obesity" and found it very informative. I appreciated the various hypotheses on the causes of the obesity "epidemic" especially Dr Elissa Epel's discussion: while some factors may be contributing to a greater degree, it really has been the "perfect storm" of all of them.