Science Café Cleveland presents
"Fat Cells: The Loyal Friends You Despise"
DECEMBER 10, 2012
Obesity is a topic nearly everyone believes themselves to be an expert on. Everyone has diet secrets, exercise tips or knows someone who does. But even though a majority of the population is trying to lose weight at any given time, the 5-year success rate for the cure of obesity is less than 5%. Even after drastic surgery, weight loss plateaus after two years and gradual regain begins. As obesity pioneer Albert Stunkard said in 1958, "Most obese people will not stay in treatment. Of those who stay in treatment, most will not lose weight, and of those who do lose weight, most will regain it."
While many scientists continue to toil to find a magic bullet that turns everyone slender, other more practical scientists are beginning to ask "What if we could mitigate or reverse the harm that excess fat does to the body? Can we make the obese healthier, even if we can't make them skinnier?"
1. Are we really getting fatter or just more honest? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) phone surveys seem to show the nation getting steadily fatter, based on self-reported height and weight. But CDC health surveys show that actual body weights stopped increasing in 1999. Phone reports are finally catching up to in person measurements, which have always indicated a higher rate of obesity.
2. Studies of identical twins show that body size is at least as heritable as body height. Photos from the Twins Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio show that not only are twins identical in weight, but they also have identical love handles and dimples. Genes may be primary determinant of your personal response to the obesity epidemic.
3. Type 2 diabetes is the condition most closely linked to obesity. Yet only a minority of the obese are diabetic, and many diabetics are lean. Also, if one identical twin has Type 2 diabetes, the other has a 95% chance of having it too. Even more strangely, Type 2 diabetics lose weight as their disease worsens and many treatments, including insulin injections, cause weight gain.
4. Exposure to environmental pollutants, beginning in the womb, may increase the risk of obesity.
5. Bacteria living in our guts harvest several hundred calories a day from waste products. Obese people and animals tend to have more efficient and generous gut bacteria than the slender.
6. Calorie intake is not related to body size. Rather, physical activity is the best predictor of eating prowess, with athletes consuming far more than the sedentary obese. Michael Phelps is reported to eat 12,000 calories a day and scientists living in Antarctica may eat even more.
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