Science Daily Fail

[TW for sizeism and Bad Science]

So, being the FA person that I am (and resident Fatty at most places I go =O ), I'm always looking to properly educate myself and find out more about the science behind some of these 'obesity studies'. Being an environmental scientist, and a biologist, the mechanics behind studies fascinate me; I love to pull apart studies and see what's *really* going on behind the scenes (because, honestly, there's *always* something going on behind the scenes. This is, unfortunately, how science is functioning today). It's pretty important to be able to do this, for me, as a fatty, because it gives me the material I need to refute ridiculous claims of sizist douchewaffles. This is the basic premise of why I was perusing Science Daily today.

I pulled up the Obesity News page (which would give me the 'latest' research on obesity- or so they advertised), and perused the articles they had featured there, and I collectively lolsobbed and facepalmed at these:

How Discrimination Hurts: Lack of Fair Treatment Leads to Obesity Issues

Turning 'Bad' Fat Into 'Good': A Future Treatment for Obesity?

And here's the real kicker listed right after it:

Changes in 'Good' Fatty Acid Concentration of Inner Organs Might Be Largely Independent of Diet

After I was done snickering at the titles, I (unfortunately) did the next sciencey thing to come to mind- I actually read them. This may have been a mistake on my part, as it's mostly crap, but I did learn something new in the process of reading them.

We'll start with the one I thought was going to be a positive, informative read:

How Discrimination Hurts: Lack of Fair Treatment Leads to Obesity Issues

From the first sentence, I realized this article was not going to be what I thought (and hoped) it was about.

People, especially men, who feel any kind of discrimination, are likely to see their waistlines expand, according to research from Purdue University.

Ok, now Purdue has its hit and miss studies, like most places, but, really, anyone who reads this first sentence (especially people who are feminists) will have a "duh" moment here- or at least the sense that something's not quite right. Here's another gem quote:

The study, based on a predominantly white sample of more than 1,400 people,

Ok, stop stop stop right there. ANY time a study's sample population 'conveniently' is a predominantly white one, and the study is making claims and conclusions about "all" people, it's shitty science. Biological process *are* affected to some degree by ethnicity. This is not a qualifier (not good, bad, etc), but just a simple fact- and it does mean that 'obesity studies' may want to do *actual* science, and account for these differences.

Besides that...just by reading these two quotes, I can make an educated guess as to what's really going on behind the science here. White males, the predominant group in this study, have privilege- over the women in the study, and over any non-white males participating. [There are also other privileges I'm not addressing here, such as class privilege, which is also a factor, because while white people can also be poor, but due to white privilege there's a much bigger tendency for non-white people to also be poor, getting hit with a double-whammy of marginalization] This means they're not 'used' to being marginalized and discriminated against- thus it's a fairly reasonable guess that results of the appliance of marginalization and discrimination to an otherwise-privileged group would reveal more pronounced results. But, that's just my take at first glance. Let's see what they concluded:

"While this study shows there is a difference between men and women, it doesn't provide specific reasons for that difference," Hunte said. "More research will need to be done to understand how and why men and women cope differently with this stress or if there are differences in how their bodies react."

*insert giant facepalm here*

People who reported ongoing perceptions of discrimination said they were treated with less courtesy than others, received poorer customer service or people acted as if they were afraid of them. The source of discrimination is not known, but Hunte did exempt individuals who reported that they felt discrimination due to their weight.

Make that a double facepalm. Moving on.

Turning 'Bad' Fat Into 'Good': A Future Treatment for Obesity?

First problem I saw with this is it's's a pretty terrible idea to label items as either Good or Bad. It's labels like this that nurture the US's culture of disordered eating. The first sentence in this article is also problematic:

By knocking down the expression of a protein in rat brains known to stimulate eating, Johns Hopkins researchers say they not only reduced the animals' calorie intake and weight, but also transformed their fat into a type that burns off more energy. The finding could lead to better obesity treatments for humans, the scientists report.

I like how almost every 'obesity research' article I read somehow ignores the fact that not only are there many more reasons for obesity than science ever hypothesized (not that *anyone* has to justify *anything* about their looks/weight/life/etc, just to be clear here). It's just more spewing of that calories in = calories out bs, that says the only "good fat" is fat that's burning off all its stored calories. Anyway, that's not what the article itself is focusing on, so I digress. Back to the meat of the article.

For five weeks, two groups of rats were fed a regular diet, with one group also treated with a virus to inhibit NPY expression and the other left as a control group. At the end of five weeks, the treated group weighed less than the control group, demonstrating that suppression of NPY reduced eating.

I really wish science would do long-term studies when they did obesity studies- 95% of the time, weight is not and can not be kept off for a statistically-significant amount of time (5 years+). 5 weeks is basically equivalent to a fad-diet. Also, I note that the amount of calories the 'regular diet' isn't divulged, which conveniently ignores the fact that (at least in humans, for which the results of this study are being published for) basal metabolic rate is different from person to person. And really, it gets better:

Bi says he believes that the transformation from white to brown fat resulting from NPY suppression may be due to activation of brown fat stem cells contained in white fat tissue. While brown fat seems to vanish in humans as they emerge from infancy, the brown fat stem cells may never disappear and may just become inactive as people age.

Maybe I'm looking at it simplistically, but generally, if there tends to be a change in the ratio of white fat/brown fat, or if my brown fat stem cells tend to go dormant as I age, I assume there's a biological reason and/or advantage to it. I also know that a lot of times science simply doesn't see the whole biological and metabolic picture. There are so many labels that scientist place on naturally-occurring biological compounds that just end up to be misnomers (Junk DNA comes to mind as an example)- only it's different in labeling fat because our culture is one that places stigma on fat people. It's complicated and diverse and it puts people, who have done *nothing* to deserve it (no, there is no one who deserves stigma, regardless of anything), in a crappy position.

Changes in 'Good' Fatty Acid Concentration of Inner Organs Might Be Largely Independent of Diet

This was the article that I was most pleased with (or rather, least angry?) with, mostly because I ended up learning something from reading it. The first introductory paragraph is actually better than I hoped:

We are all encouraged to eat polyunsaturated fatty acids, as these are "good for us" and we are unfortunately unable to make them ourselves. The (relative) levels of particular classes of polyunsaturated fatty acids have been associated with a plethora of human illnesses. The latest findings of Walter Arnold and his group at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna suggest that changes in fatty acid concentration of inner organs might be largely independent from diet composition.

I like the good for us in quotes, as nutrition is very much an individual thing. What is good for one may not be good for another, and what is good for one in one moment of time, may not be good for one in a different moment of time. Nutrition is very much a variable and fluid thing, and is different to each person, according to their needs, means, priorities, and a whole host of other things. (This is also something that obesity studies very conveniently ignore).

I also noticed that it mentions that it's the relative levels of a classes of polyunsaturated fatty acids have been associated (rather than cause, because there's no scientific study that shows a causation rather than a correlation). This is also an important distinction within the idea that nutrition is an individual thing, as the article actually touches upon later:

To illustrate the importance of the subject, Arnold notes further that "the incidence of heart attacks in humans, well known to increase when membranes contain a high n-6 to n-3 ratio, peaks at the end of winter." Could this relate to a conserved seasonal peak of n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid concentrations in heart muscle?

I don't know about any of you, but I work in the food industry, so one of the adages I hear is "eat this because it's full of unsaturated fat, and that's GOOD for you" Except in some individuals at some time of the year where it's actually possibly fatal for you? (Now that's awkward.) But, I like very much that the article brings up this point, in its conclusion of all places, it strikes me as scientific integrity, which is sorely lacking in quite a few studies, unfortunately.

The idea that changes in the essential fatty acid content of membranes can only be made via the diet is clearly too simple.

If only science as a whole figured this out, rather than trying to create some Aperture Science sort of mentality against fat people. One can only hope.

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