Egg or Jellyfish?

Scrambled Thinking About Obesity Causes & Cures

Ask a thoughtful scientist precisely what has brought us a global pandemic of obesity and you are likely to get an ambiguous answer. We have plenty of suspects. But no sinuglar culprit. So the honest answer is IDK.

Faking It vs “I Don’t Know”

Most often, neither journalists nor policymakers let the facts get in the way of a good story. The Economist – ordinarily a thoughtful publication – chaulks it all up to fast food. Its clever video offers solid numbers on the problem. But it doesn’t bother with a realistic assessment of the complex causes. Fast food is a convenient villain.

Environmental Obesity DriversWriting for the PBS NewsHour, Laura Santhanam offers a more honest account. She took the time to talk with thoughtful scientists, such as Jack Yanovski, who told her:

Obesity is a complex problem that isn’t going to have one solution. We’re all going to have to work together to improve the health of our nation.

The truth is that our genes program us for a risk of obesity. But a perfect storm in our environment is what triggers it. We have higher rates of obesity because of four major factors in our environment:

1. Changes in the food supply.

2. Daily routines that require less physical exertion.

3. Stress and distress, including unhealthy work and sleep patterns.

4. Drugs and chemicals that alter our endocrine function.

Taken together, these factors are subtly altering our physiology. Just as your body regulates its temperature, it also regulates the amount of energy you store in the form of fat tissue. These factors are pushing the set point for your fat mass upward. But those four factors are actually groupings of many related factors. If you dig into it, you will find a lot of complexity that no one yet fully understands.

Simple Solutions Simply Fail Us

Confessing to complexity and incomplete knowledge is not as easy as faking it. So we have witnessed a long line of simple solutions for rising obesity rates. Through the 80s and 90s, we blamed high-fat diets and fast food. But low-fat everything – including the McLean Deluxe – was an epic failure. Obesity rates kept rising.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations mounted sincere efforts to reverse the rising tide of obesity. However, without confessing to an incomplete knowledge about obesity, those efforts were doomed to fail. And now, many advocates seem to think that a war on sugar will solve this problem.

IDK is the truth of what it will take to reverse the rise in obesity rates. As soon as we can accept that fact, we can start applying what we really know and get serious about research to fill in the major gaps that remain.

Until we do, we’ll keep spinning our wheels.

Click here for more on the causes of the perfect storm of obesity.

Egg or Jellyfish? Photograph © Ed Bierman / flickr

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August 20, 2018

2 Responses to “Scrambled Thinking About Obesity Causes & Cures”

  1. August 20, 2018 at 11:47 am, John DiTraglia said:

    IDK should include the following items:
    Obesity is a complex problem and will require a complex solution. It may be simple in retrospect. Also the following –
    1. Changes in the food supply.

    2. Daily routines that require less physical exertion.

    3. Stress and distress, including unhealthy work and sleep patterns.

    4. Drugs and chemicals that alter our endocrine function.

  2. August 22, 2018 at 6:17 am, Fernando Aguirre said:

    If we start in infancy with a coordinated approach to child health, it will be easier to confront the problem. The industry is not going to support this proposal! In Guayaquil Ecuador, we are in search of support for such a campaign!
    Fernando Aguirre Md.