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Old News about Diet, Genes, and Weight

Debbie says:

I’ve admired Gina Kolata, one of the New York Times‘ regular science writers, for a long time. Now she turns her attention to a subject near and dear to my heart. Her new book is called Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss–And the Myths and Realities of Dieting.

The New York Times recently published a long excerpt, which cites a study from 1959. Yes, a key study from nearly fifty years ago, which was groundbreaking at the time:

And [the results] led them to a surprising conclusion: fat people who lost large amounts of weight might look like someone who was never fat, but they were very different. In fact, by every metabolic measurement, they seemed like people who were starving.

Before the diet began, the fat subjects’ metabolism was normal–the number of calories burned per square meter of body surface was no different from that of people who had never been fat. But when they lost weight, they were burning as much as 24 percent fewer calories per square meter of their surface area than the calories consumed by those who were naturally thin.

The Rockefeller subjects also had a psychiatric syndrome, called semi-starvation neurosis, which had been noticed before in people of normal weight who had been starved. They dreamed of food, they fantasized about food or about breaking their diet. They were anxious and depressed; some had thoughts of suicide. They secreted food in their rooms. And they binged.

Great. This was 1959. Now zip to the 1980s, and a very different study:

Dr. Stunkard ended up with 540 adults whose average age was 40. They had been adopted when they were very young–55 percent had been adopted in the first month of life and 90 percent were adopted in the first year of life. His conclusions, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1986, were unequivocal. The adoptees were as fat as their biological parents, and how fat they were had no relation to how fat their adoptive parents were.

Kolata’s book sounds excellent, and will probably get some attention. Nonetheless, my pleasure on reading this in a high-profile newspaper is mixed with rage. None of this is even remotely new. We didn’t write about these two particular studies in Women En Large , which was published in 1994. Instead, we wrote about other studies, probably mentioned in Kolata’s book, which reached the same conclusion. We knew this 13 years ago, and we were far from the first to understand it.

I say fuck the people who are making money by lying to us about why we’re fat, or not fat. I’d like to shove a copy of this book into the face of every one of them … hard!

We’ve seen this link lots of places, but Stef was first.

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One Response to “Old News about Diet, Genes, and Weight”

  1. I understand your rage. It does seem to take many years of repetition before something can become part of the national psyche. There are still many out there, for example, who believe that behavioral issues exhibited in a child with autism spectrum disorder or another neurological syndrome are merely products of poor parenting (think of how long people believed in the “Refrigerator Mother” theory of autism, and how many lives were injured because of this). Actually, when my son was diagnosed with autism in 1992, I was behind in the research, being only exposed to mainstream media. I remember asking the doctor, “Did I cause this?”

    And he said, “No one believes that anymore. It is probably because of how good a parent you are that he is talking as much as he is!”

    True or not, I really appreciated those words during such a dark time.

    Keep hammering away, keep repeating your important messages. It just takes others longer to get it, that’s all. And drink a pina colada to give thanks to Gina Kolata!

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