Thursday, July 05, 2007

Stress = Obesity?

Perhaps you saw the articles earlier this week on studies that purport to show that stress combined with a junk food diet may be the "cause" of obesity. For example, the Washington Post had a front page story headlined "Way to Shrink, Grow Fat Is Found."

Stories like this belong in a little box in the Style section, somewhere close to the latest "news" on Paris, Britney, Lindsay and Nicole. The key passage in the story is this: "The researchers have applied for a patent and have begun negotiating with drug companies to license the technology." In other words, this is from a group of folks who are hoping to get rich quick.

Haven't we heard this all before--some new magic bullet cure for obesity?

This time, the researchers--using mice, not humans--say they've found a biochemical pathway that creates obesity in stressed out animals fed a high fat diet of "junk food." The key is supposedly a substance called "neuropeptide Y" and a receptor for it, the "neuropeptide Y2R receptor." (From the Y2K scare to the Y2R hope!). The theory is that people with too much neuropeptide Y get fat when also subjected to "stress"; block the neuropeptide Y and they won't.

As one scientist explained it in a commentary that accompanied publication of the research: "There is a lot of uncontrollable stress right now in our societies. There's also a lot of inexpensive high-fat food. This could help explain the obesity epidemic."

The problem with such blather is that humans have ALWAYS been subjected to uncontrollable stress. Indeed, for the first six million years of human existence--until about 40 years ago--much of that stress centered around "where's my next meal going to come from?" All in all, one can hardly say that life today is MORE stressful for most humans than it was at any other time in history. The difference may only be that the stress has shifted from worrying about survival to being concerned about trivial things such as what television channel will get Paris's first post-jail interview.

Since stress is nothing new, then that leaves "a lot of inexpensive high-fat food" as the possible culprit in the obesity epidemic. Bingo. But did we need scientists to figure that one out? Not really--all they're saying is that fat people are eating too much junk food. Duh. Perhaps the easier solution--rather than blocking a neuropeptide that probably does some useful things in the body--would simply be to eat less crappy food.

Do we really need a pill that will allow people to go into the Cheesecake Factory and stuff their faces with impunity? Will we have to double our output of food--and the attendant drain on world resources--just to keep feeding those people?


Tammy said...

I have to completely agree with you - if people were under incredible stress and didn't eat junk food, ate healthy food in healthy portions and exercised 3-5 times a week (yes, all while they were under STRESS) would they gain the same amount of weight as those that ate the junk food?

Besides, what percentage of the weight gained would be body fat vs muscle (in the face of all that stress)...

As someone battling my own demons in this area - I get tired of people saying it's genetic when they sit all day long, rarely work up a sweat AND have seconds. I tell them it's that L gene keeping them overweight and that's cured with hard work.

MonkeyGirl said...

Yes, I think we eventually will develop a pill...because people are lazy and are always looking for an easy-out. Whether it's an easy way to get rich quickly or burn calories quickly, people are generally loathe to work hard. Maybe that's one of the curses of the industrial revolution - giving us what we want, when we want, at a cheap price.