Does obesity, or even high-fat food, change the brain?

Experiments with mice suggest that fatty foods can cause inflammation in the hypothalamus of the brain. It’s an area that helps to regulate hunger and thus body weight; Isaac Asimov called it the “appestat” and suggested that fat people were hungrier people.

Brain, showing hypothalamus from "Gray's Anatomy"

(from Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s the article: “Could obesity change the brain?” Inflammation is seen after one high-fat meal. It does down after a week or so, but then a month later it comes back and persists for many months—a long time in the two-year life span of a mouse. Does it change the mice’s appetites? I’m not sure. Michael Schwartz, a professor and director of the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence at the University of Washington, says “This might reflect fundamental biological changes in how the brain works that help explain why it’s so hard to keep weight off.” The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (J Clin Invest. 2012;122(1):153–162. doi:10.1172/JCI59660).

It’s also possible that obesity, a longer-term exposure to fat in the bloodstream, causes persistent inflammation, as found in earlier studies of obese lab animals. Exactly what does this mean? The researchers are now looking at NMRI scans of obese humans and finding have inflammation of the hypothalamus.

Inflammation in the human hypothalamus: A, normal weight; B, obese.

(from JCI article)

It’s suggestive that some of the best diets reduce the amount of fat eaten and gradually reduce the craving for fats.

Further research is definitely needed into diet, brain reactions, and appetite.

Christian obesity

Northwestern University reports an 18-year study that finds that young adults in the U.S. who are religious and go to church are 50% more likely to become obese as they age, compared to people who don’t.

What ages people? Smoking and obesity

This might be old news but it’s good to remind ourselves: Eat healthy food and don’t smoke!

Smoking accelerated the ageing of key pieces of a person’s DNA by about 4.6 years. For obesity it was nine years.

These genetic codes are important for regulating cell division and have been linked to age-related diseases.

The study in the Lancet was based on 1,122 twins from a database held by St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

Monorail cat: more passengers

Funny Pictures
more funny cats

I’m back on my diet.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

CalorieLab’s U.S. Obesity Report

To sum up CalorieLab’s report on where the fat people are: Colorado is still the leanest, Mississippi is again the fattest, and California’s the only state not getting fatter.

Friends can make you fat

thin vs. fatClose friends gain weight together–even if they live apart. A new study shows that if a friend gains weight, you’re 57% more likely to gain weight. Family members have a similar, but lesser effect. Neighbours have none. And this isn’t a small study. It’s an analysis of more than 12,000 people over more than 30 years. Researchers knew who were spouses, who were siblings, who were neighbours, who were friends, and what they weighed.

The same seems to occur for weight loss, but fewer people lost weight.

Is Sylvain Chomet right?

Today was our last day at our client site in Carson, a suburb of Los Angeles, so I took our clients out to lunch.

Carson has never been blessed with restaurants, but SouthBay Pavilion recently sprouted a Chili’s, so thither I took them. It was not the best choice—the staff were disorganized and service was slow.

Because of the slow service, I had time to notice—I couldn’t help but notice—that a lot of the customers were, well, obese. Perhaps four fifths of the restaurant’s patrons were stuffed into or bulging out of their clothes, and carrying not twenty but forty, fifty, sixty, or even eighty pounds of excess weight.

Back in my client’s office in the Carson Civic Plaza, I looked down from his third-floor window and observed the same of the folks walking across the parking lot. One middle-aged couple, my age I’d guess, were having trouble walking.

I’m fascinated by the problem of obesity. My parents were obese, one of my siblings is obese, two more are overweight, and I’m pretty darn chunky for someone training assiduously for an Ironman.

In his rather, um, weird little film, Les Triplettes de Belleville, Sylvain Chomet shows the inhabitants of Belleville (a kind of surrealistic New York) to be blimplike (see the picture). How far is that from the truth?

The physics is scary. It supposedly takes 3500 kcal of energy to make a pound of fat. If you have a perfectly balanced diet, and add one medium-sized apple to it, you’ll gain ten pounds a year. But we live in a world where you can easily scarf down a 1500-kcal lunch without noticing; it’s no wonder we’re carrying so much avoirdupois.

When I googled obesity chili’s, I got 13,000 hits. The top of the list was a very interesting article, “Why America Has to Be Fat”. A provocative quotation:

… An efficient economy produces sluggish, inefficient bodies.

“The obesity problem is really a side effect of things that are good for the economy,” said Tomas J. Philipson, an economics professor who studies obesity at the University of Chicago, a city recently named the fattest in America. “But we would rather take improvements in technology and agriculture than go back to the way we lived in the 1950s when everyone was thin. Nobody wants to sweat at work for 10 hours a day and be poor. Yes, you’re obese, but you have a life that is much more comfortable.”

Serving sizes

They do vary a little from one authority to another.

First of all, here’s a serving size game — guess what’s counts as a serving of different foods.

This is what approximately what I was told about serving sizes.

If we’re going by volume, why not just use 1/2 cup or 125 ml instead of ping-pong balls, light bulbs, bars of soap, dice, fists, balls, CDs, cup-cake wrappers!? (the latter being measures of diameter). All of those things (except CDs) commonly vary. And if volume isn’t reliable, how about weight? Here’s a PDF version of a serving-size quick reference card with some of those ridiculous measurements. To go along with it, here are dietary guidelines for healthy Americans (PDF). Here are further dietary guidelines aimed at educators.

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