Is the Obesity Epidemic a Real Epidemic?

Your digestive system is actually a complex ecosystem, playing host to hundreds of species of bacteria that do things as diverse as fermenting undigested carbohydrates and providing vitamins. They also regulate how much fat your body stores.

Not et1larg_high_obesity_ratesveryone, however, has the same gut bacteria. And, interestingly, the composition of this bacteria correlates with obesity…

Researchers harvested bacteria from pairs of twin mice, where one twin was obese and the other was not. Then they transplanted these bacteria into different mice. The mice who received bacteria from the obese twin gained weight, while the others did not. The mice did not eat more: Their metabolism changed so that they put on more weight even with the same caloric input…

A study…shows that obesity seems to “spread” across social networks, with people infecting their friends and neighbors. I had always assumed that was because birds of a feather flock together — and that is surely part of the explanation. But because gut bacteria can also spread among people in close proximity, perhaps the obesity epidemic really is, well, an epidemic? (NYT)

Comments (15)

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  1. JD says:

    Wow. This is a shocking revelation that would change the way to talk about obesity if it proves true.

    • Dewaine says:

      The author does a good job of taking a measured approach. Yes, biology plays a large role, but the choices that we make are also significant. We cannot discount the latter.

      • JD says:

        It seems like that this is pattern we are seeing in all areas of human behavior. We are genetically predisposed to certain behavior and biological factors influence changes. But, a lot of people forget that decisions are still decisions, that we do in fact still have a choice. It is good that we are seeing people take both into consideration.

    • Wiliam says:

      And change how we potentially treat the disease.

  2. Dewaine says:

    “But because gut bacteria can also spread among people in close proximity, perhaps the obesity epidemic really is, well, an epidemic?”

    Does this mean that it would be ok to discriminate based on weight? You know, in the interest of public health?

  3. Perry says:

    Maybe when folks claim their friends and family are making them fat, they have a point?

  4. Adam says:

    The NYT offered a correction to this piece that makes it more compelling: the bacteria used in the transplant came from humans and was given to mice; it wasn’t mouse to mouse.

    • Kevin says:

      You’re right, that does make it more compelling. If it works cross-species then there is reason to think that treatment would be very effective in a lot of people who struggle with weight loss.

  5. Buster says:

    I’ve always wondered if fecal transplants wouldn’t become the next big weight loss fad. What’s really needed is some time of nutritional supplement (i.e. a poop pill) that doesn’t spill its contents until it’s deep inside the intestines. That way drug makers could really keep people paying for a treatment.

  6. hoads says:

    Part of the problem with the “epidemic” of obesity is the use of BMI as the sole measure. This parameter has been used since 1996 and its institution as the sole measure ushered in a dramatic increase in the incidence of obesity in the U.S. BMI does not distinguish fat from muscle and thus, those with low body fat can have a BMI of >30 such as athletes. There are classifications of fat that predispose persons to health risks related to excess fat. Visceral fat that lies between organs is the more pernicious type of fat and BMI does not differentiate this type of fat.