Sunday, April 22, 2007

no fat chicks

So some research across the pond has led to the claim that adding leptin (a hormone associated with appetite regulation) to baby formula has the potential to prevent children from becoming obese later in life. The hormone - naturally present in breast milk - was added to the diet of neonatal mice, and they remained slim throughout their life span even when fed fat-laden diets.

The claim is that the presence of the hormone in the early stages of development can hard-wire the brain in such a way that calorie intake is more highly regulated. Some scientists, however, are calling the eventual addition of leptin to all baby formulas and subsequent elimination of obesity "wildly optimistic science fiction."

The biggest problem right now? Finding parents willing to allow their newborns to participate in a clinical trial with the supplemented formula.

The Guardian article noted that "other specialists in the field condemned the search for a medical answer to obesity, saying it is a modern social ill and that people need to address their lifestyles, not look for an artificial quick fix." Does anyone have thoughts on this? While too many people do make poor eating choices (which have more potential health implications than just obesity and diabetes), is it really a bad thing to 'artificially' hard-wire the brain so that you can't really get fat? I mean, I think that sounds like a GREAT idea. And it's a natural hormone found in normal human breast milk; really, they're just adding back something to formula that was already there in the stuff they modeled it after. In general, I'd agree that most 'social ills' do need to be addressed by a re-assessment of lifestyle choices, but I just don't think that applies here.

7 comments:

Erin said...

I agree. I think those scientists condemning this type of research are being over sensitive. Obesity has both a social and medical/philological component. For the same reasons that we caution against ignoring the social aspect by wishing for a cure-all pill, we shouldn't ignore the physiological aspects either. I also agree that this doesn't seem like an "artificial" fix, but instead recognition of a dificency in a product.

I also think the problem of finding test subjects interesting. I wonder how or if they tested formula before it was original put to market?

Scott said...

No, I think the issue is that if we start offering "quick fixes" for obesity, or other social-physiological diseases, it takes too much focus away from the responsibility of the person to care for their bodies properly. What if we could create a drug that prevented alcoholism later in life? Cool idea, but then should I feel free to drink myself silly regularly? No, that's unhealthy. Yes, alcoholism is a more complicated disease than people just drinking too much, too often, but stressing the need for self control over medicinal control is more important in cases like these (I would not advocate similar ideas when it comes to mental illness or depression).

A drug that can prevent obesity later in life will reduce focus on healthy eating and proper exercise. Yes, some people are prone to being larger than others. They will need to pay extra attention to diet and exercise. Doesn't sound fair? Think we should let drugs and science put everyone on a level playing field? Then I want to use drugs that will make me a better athlete and capable of riding a bike.

Dave said...

I don't think you're making entirely fair comparisons. Particularly with regard to athletes...there ARE drugs available to make you a better athlete, and you can feel free to take them - but you can't participate in professional sports. That's an arena where taking enhancement drugs produces an unfair advantage (it is a GAME, after all).

Being able to control your food intake is not a game; there's no competition from person to person to see who can stay the slimmest (at least not officially). So who says we SHOULDN'T level the playing field? Who are we - who have been so fortunate as to have good genes and to have learned reasonably healthy eating habits in our upbringing and education - to say "tough shit" to those who haven't been so lucky?

And in both this case and the case of alcoholism, eating poorly or drinking excessively will STILL have negative implications REGARDLESS of whether or not obesity or alcoholism is thrown into the mix. I, for instance, will likely never have to deal with either of the aforementioned clinical problems...I will, however, need to watch what I eat and keep my drinking in check.

I do still agree with the general opinion that "quick fixes" and "cure-all pills" are not the answer to all of society's problems, but I just can't see a really valid argument against this preemptive attack on obesity. To me, it just makes good sense - socially and otherwise.

Christina said...

The most emailed article in the new york times is remarkably relevant to this discussion. Instead of throwing money at these weird anti-obesity drugs (you all know how expensive drug production is) why don't we just try to make healthy food options more available for everyone?

Also, there is no inalienable right to being skinny, just as there is no inalienable right to overeating. Just because some people put weight on faster when they eat more than their body can handle doesn't mean that we should be making pills for them. We should be making it easier for those people (especially children) to eat fruits and vegetables and harder for them to be ingesting thousands of calories worth of soda. I'm not saying "tough shit" to anyone because I have the metabolism of a field mouse. I'm saying "hey corporations, why don't you stop making all this shitty food to kill people?" Who knows, maybe the economy will collapse if that happens, but it would also collapse under the weight (hehe) of having to take care of millions upon millions of obese Americans.

Cressida said...

The study that I think needs to be done to answer this question would look at the psychological component of obesity. I've watched all kinds of programs on TLC and the Discovery Chanel about obesity, where they follow around one of the unfortunately-labeled "super morbid". You know, the half-ton man. And in all of those shows, the pathology of obesity is heavily enabled by the psychological pathology of the patient; i.e., dude says he eats only 3 meals a day, but in fact eats 23. But at the same time, this is just anecdotal evidence. We need a study that asks: In a controlled group of obese people, what percentage have a psychological pathology that exacerbates their weight gain? We can't address the molecular details of obesity until we separate out the psychological (and therefore malleable) component.

Dave said...

I think it's important to remember that this proposal is not for a pill at all; rather, it's a treatment that would be given to children in their infancy, well before they have the ability to make decisions about their eating. So, for one thing, people who are currently obese will not have an easy way out.

I argue that this kind of supplementation - ESPECIALLY because it's only going to be given to infants - should be encouraged in tandem with teaching healthy eating habits, both by education in the home and by the food available to us (like Christina mentioned...although I think it's totally unrealistic to get the corporations to stop making stuff that's bad for us available. Jesus, look at the tobacco industry).

Scott said...

I think that giving infants a treatment that will prevent them from putting on weight is wrong and wasteful - as Christina said, why such a stigma against putting on weight. Of course, there is an unhealthy side to putting on weight, and that can be discouraged by encouraging proper eating and exercise habits. I am still of the belief that should people know they've been protected from obesity then they will feel free to eat as they please with no mindfulness towards healthier eating habits. I know I would. If I could eat steak and chocolate cake for the rest of my life, fantastic.

Who am I to say "tough shit"? Just a guy on a blog. Tough shit. Can't run a mile in under 10 minutes? Tough shit. Can't get better than 1000 on your SATs? Can't learn the same way most of your classmates do? Tough crap. We tell children that they have a learning disability and have difficulty doing math, and they say, Fine I won't try to do it any longer. When what we should be saying is that they learn math in a different way and need to work harder to do as well as their peers. TOUGH SHIT. Can't eat an entire cake and walk away weighing less? Too bad. Don't eat cake. It sucks, but life isn't fair. We must adopt healthy habits for ourselves, whether they be harder or easier than other people's. Obesity is controllable. Obesity is not such a problem in other countries because there is a culture of healthier living. That is what should be developed in this country. Not drugs to stop people from getting fatter. Yes, some people are predisposed to easily getting fatter. Well, they need to try harder not to. Tough shit.

Studies into food culture have been done. As compared to 20 years ago when the rates of obesity began rising, people are still eating the same number of meals (3), those portions are the same size, and rates of exercise are generally the same. What has changed? Snacking. People snack all day. Adds a lot of calories. Food has become more available at all times over the last 20-30 years and that has led to a snacking boom. And obesity rates have risen along with snacking.

I'm all for treatments for diseases and conditions that are uncontrollable by reasonable practices. Obesity is controllable through healthy livnig. Let's focus on that and stop pretreating our infants.