Obesity may really be an epidemic
August 21, 2007 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Obesity has been called an epidemic in the United States. Looking at an interactive statistic [CNN, flash] of the state-by-state numbers is sobering mf. 64% of adults are overweight and approx 25% are obese [Wikipedia 1, 2]. The usual suspects have so far been a culture of low-exercise mf high-consumption (due to urban sprawl, driving, TV, ... ), microbes mf, genetic predisposition, and bad diet (the ubiquity of junk food with its high levels of fat, sugar and salt. Recently the high fructose levels in the common American diet has also been noted. Fructose comprises 50% of table sugar and up to 90% of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), both ingredients found in copious amounts in most American 'convenience' foods. [Wikipedia: Fructose#References, Wikipedia:HFCS]).
Now it seems that a decisive assessory is a common virus, the Human Adenovirus-36, which may really make obesity an actual epidemic. [Int. Journal of Obesity, CNN]
posted by umop-apisdn (48 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
64% of adults are overweight and approx 25% are obese

I'm kind of torn, the existence of lots of fat people means that I have higher dating market value. On the other hand I guess it also means there are less quality people to pick from. On the other hand I suspect there are more fat men than women, so it at least pushes the ratio to my favor. On the other hand I suspect most women probably don't care anyway. On the other hand I at least can see my penis in the shower. On the other hand I don't even own a shower.

That's right, I'm a homeless street wino.
posted by dgaicun at 2:50 PM on August 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

Personally, I subscribe to the the Family Guy diet.
posted by aubin at 3:01 PM on August 21, 2007

I have high cholesterol, therefore I don't have that virus. Yay!
posted by joannemerriam at 3:07 PM on August 21, 2007

Great, now I'm going to have my friend Victor's song "High Fructose Corn Syrup is No Good for Me" in my head all day. Again. Shit.
posted by sleepy pete at 3:12 PM on August 21, 2007

Y'know who else was obese? That's right GOERING!
posted by Sk4n at 3:16 PM on August 21, 2007

It's their own fault. I can't help it. Deal with it. Exercise more. You don't know what it's like. I feel good. I feel good too, what's your point? Live and let live. You're what's wrong with America. My aunt drinks four liters of Pepsi a day. Just run a little bit every day, you'll feel better. Jesus, you can be a prick. You know who else was obese? This is why my insurance is so high. How hard can it be not to eat fast food every day. I tried to go to the gym once. LOLFATTIES.
posted by billysumday at 3:26 PM on August 21, 2007 [13 favorites]

Thanks for summarizing, billysumday. OK, we can close this up!
posted by synaesthetichaze at 3:28 PM on August 21, 2007

A virus? Well then I'm taking some sick leave until I knock this thing out. At least my chicken soup won't have to be low-cal.
posted by itchylick at 3:29 PM on August 21, 2007

So, did adenovirus-36 evolve (or arrive on a comet) sometime in the last ten-odd years?
posted by jfuller at 3:29 PM on August 21, 2007

It may be in the links but I haven't found it yet - one of the major factors in the obesity epidemic is the change in definition nine years ago.
This, and the use/misuse of the body mass index (BMI) produces a lot of officially obese people who do not, in fact, have huge amounts of excess body fat...
The "Obesity Epidemic!!!!" appears to involve not only a fair amount of excess fat but also a liberal helping of BS.

(I have no axe to grind here - I'm not obese under the latest definition. Well not very obese. Just big-boned.)
posted by speug at 3:34 PM on August 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

Ooh ooh, I wanna be "You're what's wrong with America."


You know what burns me? When I look in old photos and I see how trim everyone looked. No wonder we are seen as lazy joke by the rest of the world. They see how fat we are nowadays, and they laugh at us. Fat people are destroying this country!

posted by quin at 3:34 PM on August 21, 2007

From the CNN article:
Unpublished studies in humans show that 20 to 30 percent of overweight people are infected with adenovirus-36, compared to about 5 percent of the lean population.
So 20-30% of people who are overweight have this virus. The other 80% don't.

Remember people, everything bad that happens to you is someone or something else's fault, everything good is the result of your own innate brilliance and has nothing to do with luck. This is new and improved version of personal responsibility for the 21st Century.
posted by sien at 3:35 PM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Did you even read the wikipedia article you linked too?
The typical types of HFCS are: HFCS 90 (most commonly used in baked goods) which is approximately 90% fructose and 10% glucose; HFCS 55 (most commonly used in soft drinks) which is approximately 55% fructose and 45% glucose; and HFCS 42 (most commonly used in sports drinks) which is approximately 42% fructose and 58% glucose.
So it's not "90% fructose" it depends on the blend, and in soft drinks it's about the same as in table sugar.
posted by delmoi at 3:36 PM on August 21, 2007

Hey Fattie.

Also, ditto what JoanneMerriam said. I got enough triglycerides to choke a horse, so no virus here. yay me. go me.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:37 PM on August 21, 2007

Okay, lipids are unaffected, so this isn't really anything to worry about, right?

Oh, I forgot, the "obese" are inherently disgusting and we need to use the disease model even when "obese" people are perfectly healthy.

Can we just face facts and understand that the moral panic surrounding obesity is just that, a moral panic? We have an entire generation of girls who think that it's preferable to smoke than to be fat, and smoke just for that reason. The Lindsay Lohans and Olsen Twins of the world are not only dangerously underweight but also engaging in one of the most deadly practices imaginable- smoking cigarettes- SPECIFICALLY to maintain that ridiculous weight.

Ask teenaged girls why they smoke. 9 of 10 will say "so I won't get fat."
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:37 PM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

If someone wants to get fat and live unhealthily, more power to them for living their life according to their own value system.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 3:43 PM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sure, everyone’s fat now, but I was fat way before it became cool.
posted by Bearman at 3:47 PM on August 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

Maybe the Yanks can save the starving in Darfur by sending over a bunch of fat people to infect the natives.
posted by strawberryviagra at 3:48 PM on August 21, 2007

I was fat when I smoked, and I'm fat now. I don't see the correlation with cigarettes.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:50 PM on August 21, 2007

A few points:

1) Correlation does not equal causation

2) International Journal of Obesity is not the most authoritative journal, not sure if I would run around screaming about it's results

3) BMI is a horrible measure of obesity. I am overweight by that standard due to muscle mass

4) Did this virus just pop up in the last 40 years? is the obvious question
posted by slapshot57 at 3:51 PM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

was fat when I smoked, and I'm fat now. I don't see the correlation with cigarettes.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:50 PM on August 21

A dataset of one always makes for a reliable study.
posted by vacapinta at 3:54 PM on August 21, 2007

So wait, do you starve a cold, or feed a cold? I feel this must be related. But then again I feel cheddar cheese and american cheese must be related. But are they?
posted by poppo at 3:57 PM on August 21, 2007

I'm waiting for proof that this fat virus was paid for by Archer Daniels Midland, where a lot of the HFCS comes from.
posted by davy at 4:00 PM on August 21, 2007

What's wrong with America is it's built on stolen Indian land! Oh sorry, wrong flame war.
posted by Abiezer at 4:02 PM on August 21, 2007

I suspect that plastics, and foods microwaved in plastic packaging, have something to do with the problem.

Endocrine Disruptors and the Obesity Epidemic

"These data suggest a role for toxicology in the etiology of obesity. This role has received additional support from a recent review (Baillei-Hamilton, 2002) that presents a provocative hypothesis to explain the global obesity epidemic: chemical toxins. This article presents data showing that the current epidemic in obesity cannot be explained solely by alterations in food intake and/or decrease in exercise. There is a genetic predisposition component of obesity; however, genetics could not have changed over the past few decades, suggesting that environmental changes might be responsible for at least part of the current obesity epidemic. Indeed, the level of chemicals in the environment is purported to coincide with the incidence of obesity, and examples of chemicals that appear to cause weight gain by interfering with elements of the human weight control system—such as alterations in weight-controlling hormones, altered sensitivity to neurotransmitters, or altered activity of the sympathetic nervous system—are noted. Indeed, many synthetic chemicals are actually used to increase weight in animals. This article provides fascinating examples of chemicals that have been tested for toxicity by standard tests that resulted in weight gain in the animals at lower doses than those that caused any obvious toxicity. These chemicals included heavy metals, solvents, polychlorinated biphenols, organophosphates, phthalates, and bisphenol A. "
posted by laptop_lizard at 4:06 PM on August 21, 2007

VacaPinta: "A dataset of one always makes for a reliable study."

I'm not a study. I'm a Zachie. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 4:13 PM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

But the "stolen Indian land" explanation is a lot easier to fix.
posted by davy at 4:13 PM on August 21, 2007

On being unfat:
First, obesity if a problem NOT just in America, and now even animals we are told are often overweight, way overweight.
second, I note that in areas where the wealthy tend to live in my state, fatness is not that often seen. Wealthy educated guys seem to hook up with attractive educated women and they stay unfat.
Third: Well and good to say that fatness is a choice and so live and let live but, alas, it does impact on health care costs and that affects those who choose to stay unfat.
Finally, we need to keep our boys and girls healthy for the next few wars they get sent to.
posted by Postroad at 4:15 PM on August 21, 2007

I'm (officially) 25 pounds away from not being obese anymore, and closing.

I have pretty damn decent endurance where it comes to walking (with or without ankle/wrist weights) and the exercise bike. But I'm diabetic -- as is my mom, as was her mom who was actually at or below "ideal" weight most of her life, despite being really damn fond of Eskimo Pies. Mom, dad, and all four grandparents have (or had) heart issues. OTOH, dad's dad is damn near 100 years old and still taking long walks; he still could have kicked my ass at age 85.

I've been watching what I eat for the past several years, not eating junk food or drinking real soda. These days I rarely eat any kind of dessert, I don't even drink diet soda, I eat more veggies than meat, I don't buy stuff with HFCS or partially hydrogenated anything, I exercise daily, I spend a lot of time hungry (though it's taking noticeably less food to fill me) but progress both in blood sugar control and weight loss is REALLY DAMN SLOW.

I'd be perfectly happy to blame a virus for extra susceptibility to obesity, in fact it would put a grim smile on my face while I keep fighting this shit. An enemy, you know? So I can say "Fuck you Adenovirus-36, I lost another 10 pounds no thanks to you."
posted by Foosnark at 4:16 PM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

So if we don't use BMI, what should we use?

(I feel obliged to say that this is not snarky because, you know, it's Metafilter)
posted by athenian at 4:23 PM on August 21, 2007

For what it's worth, obesity is not just an American epidemic, but is showing up in most developed countries. We have huge quantities of high-calorie/low-nutrition food available to us at a much lower price than high quality nutritious food. Combine that with sedentary lifestyles (how many of you sit a computer all day?) and what else would we expect the result to be?

And for the record, I think that everyone should pretty much ignore BMI. That is a terrible measurement. If you're at all muscular or athletic, you're likely to score in the obese/overweight range even if your body fat percentage is very low.
posted by NatalieMac at 4:26 PM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by quonsar at 4:30 PM on August 21, 2007


We should use BMI in conjunction with body fat percentage and waist-hip ratio and people should also have some idea of their resting heart rate and cholesterol.
posted by sien at 4:30 PM on August 21, 2007

Someone sneezed near me and I caught The Fat!
posted by sourwookie at 4:31 PM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

As of Jan 2007, the authors are looking into the influence of the AD-36 on leptin production/expression and fat cell (adipocyte) differentiation.

As far as obesity research goes, this is pretty much a dead end for the argument of causation. Leptin is a hormonal signal for obesity and regulates appetite, ie. signal for people who are already obese. And fat cell differentiation probably has to do with more effective/efficient storage of fat already in the body (fat driving fat cell specialization). So the reason for greater AD-36 prevalence in overweight individuals? More likely scenarios are that being obese has some effect on levels of AD-36 rather than AD-36 levels causing obesity.
posted by junesix at 4:49 PM on August 21, 2007

Starve a cold.
Feed a wolfdog.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:50 PM on August 21, 2007

To follow up on speug, slapshot57.

There was a previous MeFi post concerning the possible false perception of an obesity problem due to a change of definition: Obesity: Epidemic or Myth?

Is was a good article posted by the (ever skeptical) Skeptical Inquirer.

Regardless of the change of definitions, simply in absolute numbers, people on average are increasing in weight (the Skeptical Inquirer doesn't deny this either).

The question is can this be only explained simply as a bad choice of lifestyle and diet? (Occam's Razor would support this...)

Or are there accelerating factors that are (at-the-moment) unique to American lifestyle? e.g. laptop_lizard's post about microwaved plastic foods packaging.

At the moment AD-36 looks like it deserves further attention. Quoting from the CNN article:
After several months, animals infected with adenovirus-36 weighed only 7 percent more on average than those without the virus, but their bodies contained more than twice as much fat.
Unpublished studies in humans show that 20 to 30 percent of overweight people are infected with adenovirus-36, compared to about 5 percent of the lean population.
posted by umop-apisdn at 5:00 PM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Guy I know got gigged by his department for having too much body fat - by standards. Not fat but he has about a 55-odd inch chest (yeah, I follow him around with a tape measure, so?) and he’s got huge arms (which might have been the problem) and benches about 500 lbs.
Secondhand story of course, but he is a really muscular guy and I’m not going to tell him he’s full of crap.

S’funny how many fat - gut fat - homeless folks there are.
...not funny ha ha of course.
I mean, you’d figure if they were starving they’d be scrawny. Not in the U.S. They’re simply malnourished, like most “obese” people. That’s the real epidemic.

I cruise through my supermarket (’Da Jewel’ out here or ‘Dom-niks’) and see an utter lack of food. All kinds of toppings for stuff, pre-packaged whatamacallits, frozen jelled some kinda things. Very tough to find actual food, and I’ve got money.

If you’re broke and/or can’t go shopping that often, it’s tougher to buy fresh veggies and so forth - not to mention you probably haven’t seen a nutritionist - much less have a personal trainer to show you how to exercise, and that’s been downplayed in schools over the years.
Really, they go out of their way there at the supermarket to misinform you. There’s a whole section now of “organic” food. Includes chocolate bars, potato chips, etc. Yeah, that’s great, but that’s not why people started eating “organic” because they wanted organic potatoes in their potato chips.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:01 PM on August 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

ZachsMind: I was fat when I smoked, and I'm fat now.

On a related note, I smoked a fattie once....
posted by Brak at 5:26 PM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think what a lot of people fail to remember is that fat production and storage is a routine and necessary process for our bodies. At the physiological level, it's not something that is supposed to be eliminated like harmful bacterium, faulty genes, or out-of-control cells (cancer). For the most part, it's doing exactly what it was designed to do - produce a small amount of necessary fats and sequester excess energy. And it's a process that is interconnected to so many other biological pathways.

So all the research into finding a biological pathway target for an obesity cure? I don't think such a target exists simply because it's not something that is supposed to be fixed. It's like trying to get better gas mileage by taking a wrench and smashing a few pipes and hoses in the engine.
posted by junesix at 5:37 PM on August 21, 2007

"It's like trying to get better gas mileage by taking a wrench and smashing a few pipes and hoses in the engine."

What about the "speed holes'"do they work?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:42 PM on August 21, 2007

Shrug. I'm overweight but getting in shape, though not losing much weight. My body fat has fallen a lot though, even though I'm technically still overweight.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:50 PM on August 21, 2007

"It's like trying to get better gas mileage by taking a wrench and smashing a few pipes and hoses in the engine."

Whaddaya mean? That doesn't work? Here all these years I been thinking I was just not smashing my engine correctly.

My sedentary lifestyle has not only caught up with me but it's surpassing my ability to keep up. The older I get, the harder it becomes to do even rudimentary tasks, so that things like just going to and from work every day become a chore - or 'exercise' that leaves me tired and miserable.

The only sufficient 'answer' I have heard is that I am to eat less and exercise more. Both of these actions cause more tired and miserable feelings, due to soreness in muscles, tightness of breath, and the grumblings of an empty stomach. So the only way to resolve the tiresome misery is more tiresome misery.

And people have the audacity to question why those of us who are already tired and miserable choose not to 'eat less and exercise more.'

Here. Your foot is asleep. Let's cut off your leg. There. All better now.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:52 PM on August 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

Remember people, everything bad that happens to you is someone or something else's fault, everything good is the result of your own innate brilliance and has nothing to do with luck.

I mean, I sympathize... but have you ever lain awake at night and wondered if people who think this way might be genuinely happier? That if there's nothing you can or wish to do about a problem then there's really nothing to be gained by blaming yourself for it, even if it is factually correct to do so? Its just so tiring. (Also bleh blah 21st century. Some humans have always acted like this. Isn't there the quote about laying all the sins of the town onto one goat that's relevant here?).
posted by SomeOneElse at 9:05 PM on August 21, 2007

Now it seems that a decisive assessory is a common virus, the Human Adenovirus-36, which may really make obesity an actual epidemic.

But the most recent link is from 2004. If this was really the case (and as fatties love nothing better than an excuse) it would be common knowledge by now.
posted by rhymer at 1:51 AM on August 22, 2007

I work in a lab that is funded by US government grants specifically to study ingestive behavior, obesity and obesity prevention. This is all the lab does. We work in a research hospital with other labs that also study obesity. If this is really big news, we'll be discussing it over the next few days.

However, like most everything else about science you see in the news, this is quite likely another case of a reporter taking a relatively minor discovery and misinterpreting it for the sake of ratings. (For reference, see basically every "gay gene" story ever published, etc., etc.)

BMI was apparently an attempt to find some normalized measurement that could be used as an estimate of the lean body mass. Problem is that calculating this effectively is really best done with an MRI or similar on an individual basis. BMI as it stands is not a bad estimate, per se, but as many people have pointed out it doesn't work well in some instances. If there were a better measurement that could be easily calculated and easily communicated to people as a method of informing them about their fat-to-lean ratio, we would be using that better measurement instead.

The main conclusion I've gotten regarding human obesity from my short time in this lab (just began this line of research recently, please excuse my lack of background) is that obesity is often associated with such a wide range of causal factors, from the physical to the mental, that there really is never going to be a single answer to why humans gain weight, and there is never going to be a single answer as to how we can reduce the weight of obese humans. The current trend for bariatric surgery as a cure really bothers me. Follow-up studies show that in general many people who have undergone bariatric surgery lose weight initially but often gain it back again, as the surgery only addresses intake rather than the underlying behavioral patterns that drive intake to begin with. The short answer to correcting obesity is not the answer people want to hear, because it involves both a lot of personal re-training, mentally, and often psychologically, to understand and try to combat the root causes of the behavior, and physical effort to burn off excess calories through reduction in consumption and increase in exercise, yet still, in some patients, the end result is no net loss of weight and no net change in behavior. Weight issues are so individual that weight loss plans cannot be universal, they must be individually tailored, and still there is a high rate of failure.

Our current line of research focuses more on understanding inherent genetic ability to prevent weight gain, rather than promotion of weight loss in the obese. This virus, if it is a risk factor promoting gain, well, that's one more to add to the list of things we need to investigate, I guess. How important it is remains to be seen. Like I said, if it really is a big deal I expect to be hearing more about it in our next lab meeting.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:28 AM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

As someone who's listened to Denis Leary's "Lock 'n Load" more times than can possibly be considered healthy, I've known about the fat virus for years.

(Highly recommended, if you need a laugh after reading this)
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:04 PM on August 22, 2007

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