It’s climate change! It’s junk science! It’s fatphobia! It’s all three at once! “New Theory: CO2 makes you fat:
It all started with a Danish scientist, Lars-Georg Hersoug, who made an astonishing discovery: “both fat and thin people taking part in the studies over a 22-year period had put on weight – and the increase was proportionately the same.”
Hmmm, do you suppose it could, just possibly, be because they were all 22 years older at the end of the study than they were at the beginning? And that weight gain is characteristic of aging? No, of course it couldn’t be that simple! You can tell just how sophisticated Hersoug is about weight science by his next comment: “The normal theory is that fat people get fatter because they don’t move as much as they should.”
No, Dr. Hersoug, that’s the simplistic theory. In more complicated models, there are many factors, and one of them is change in metabolism as people age.
Actually looking at the graphs in the article, I honestly can’t tell if they represent the same people 22 years later or a new group of people, but the text does seem to imply that it’s the same people. And the 1974 and 1996 graph are suspiciously identical: genuine data graphs don’t look like that.
But wait, there’s more. It turns out that “all” animals gain weight even under controlled laboratory conditions (someone should tell my cat, who never gains an ounce under completely unlimited feeding conditions). Never believe a scientific article that tells you that the same thing happened to “all” of 20,000 subjects.
By now, of course, we are steeped in the most literal fatphobia: fear that people are getting fatter without any evidence whatsoever either that this is happening (it is, but by nothing like the amounts that most people think it is) or that it’s a problem (it’s probably not).
At this point, the actual theorizing gets interesting. It appears that in theory, a type of neuropeptide hormones known as orexins are affected by the acidity level of blood. The orexins regulate sleep and appetite, so it is in fact possible that higher acid levels in the blood (which can be caused by breathing more carbon dioxide) increase appetite. I would love to see some real studies on this, but not by Dr. Hersoug, because …
… to “prove” this interesting hypothesis, he and two other Danish researchers did a really exciting study with six participants! They exposed them to increased CO2 for seven hours! And after the study, the three guys who had had more CO2 ate a whole six percent more than the three guys who had normal CO2 levels.
Convinced? I didn’t think so.
If all of that weren’t enough, the article goes on to (I’m not joking, and neither are they) claim that the CO2 in beer might be responsible for beer bellies and the part of the article about Hersoug ends (as all articles about weight gain are required to end) with Hersoug proclaiming “the faith sentence,” in this case that exercise and eating fruits and vegetables are the best things you can do to counter the effects of CO2 on your body.
I’m all for exercise, and fruits and vegetables. And I do recommend the rest of the article, which raises some different questions about Hersoug’s findings than the ones I saw. But, of course, the article says nothing about what we could do as a society to counteract and minimize the effects of climate change, or to counteract and minimize prejudice and misconceptions about fat people. Let’s not expect too much.
It will all be fine. Hersoug and crew have an exciting new plan: they’re going to do some tests on rats!
Thanks to Jae for the pointer.