Little Red Ribbon-Hood: April 2007: Archives

April 14, 2007

Feeding Frenzy: What's Eating Us? genre: Little Red Ribbon-Hood & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Food Chain

We live in a world that likes to focus on flash...the best news is breaking news that portrays the latest tragedy...whether that be a plane crash, a shooting, a celebrity death, or any of a number of calamities. At the same time, slower burning, less inflammatory catastrophes unfold at a reliably steady pace each day. The question is what makes one the focus of near obsessive attention and the other an item to be placed obscurely on the back burner?

Several months back, Thought Theater did a posting about an article that pointed to a classic example of this phenomenon...the expansion of humanity...around the waist. While we do see an occasional news piece on the topic, it rarely breaches the psyche to the same degree that, for example, Anna Nicole Smith's death and the battle over who fathered her child...or the number of U.S. troop fatalities in Iraq has achieved. Clearly, a number of Americans could cite the number of troops lost, but only perhaps a handful could offer the statistics on deaths attributed to obesity.

A new article was published this week on the possible identification of what is being called the 'fat' gene. While the discovery is significant, much more research will be needed to fully understand this genetic component and just how it influences weight gain. Notwithstanding, it seems to me that the prevalence of expanding waist lines is also influenced by factors other than genetics...although in some regard one could probably argue that the genes we possess create the person we become...likely including some of the psychological factors behind our less than desirable behaviors and bad habits. The full article can be found here.

From the latest article:

A gene that contributes to obesity has been identified for the first time, promising to explain why some people easily put on weight while others with similar lifestyles stay slim.

People who inherit one version of the gene rather than another are 70 per cent more likely to be obese, British scientists have discovered. One in six people has the most vulnerable genetic make-up and weighs an average 3kg more than those with the lowest risk. They also have 15 per cent more body fat.

The findings provide the first robust link between a common gene and obesity, and could eventually lead to new ways of tackling one of the most significant causes of ill health in the developed world. One in four British adults is classified as obese, and half of men and a third of women are overweight.

Obesity is a main cause of heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. An adviser to the Government’s health spending watchdog said recently that the condition was a bigger national danger than smoking, alcohol or poverty.

FTO will not be the only gene that influences obesity, and inheriting a particular variant will not necessarily make anyone fat. “This is not a gene for obesity, it is a gene that contributes to risk," Professor McCarthy said.

The research involved too many people to control for exercise and diet, so it is not yet known whether FTO affects how much people eat or how active they are. But it may explain how people with apparently similar lifestyles differ in propensity to put on weight.

Independent experts called the discovery highly significant. Susan Jebb, of the MRC Human Nutrition Unit, said: "This research provides clear evidence of a biological mechanism which makes some people more susceptible to gaining weight in a world where food is plentiful and sedentary lifestyles the norm."

Note the distinction made about the discovery that states, "This is not a gene for obesity, it is a gene that contributes to risk." Again, the finding is significant but I prefer to focus on the other factors that contribute to the rapid increase in obesity. To that end, let me return to the older article.

From the older article:

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - An obesity pandemic threatens to overwhelm health systems around the globe with illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, experts at an international conference warned Sunday.

"This insidious, creeping pandemic of obesity is now engulfing the entire world," Paul Zimmet, chairman of the meeting of more than 2,500 experts and health officials, said in a speech opening the weeklong International Congress on Obesity. "It's as big a threat as global warming and bird flu."

The World Health Organization says more than 1 billion adults are overweight and 300 million of them are obese, putting them at much higher risk of diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke and some forms of cancer.

Zimmet, a diabetes expert at Australia's Monash University, said there are now more overweight people in the world than the undernourished, who number about 600 million.

I found the information in the last paragraph fascinating...overweight people now outnumber the undernourished! The reason I find it fascinating may surprise my readers...but I guess the element of surprise may well be what we all prefer. It is fascinating to me because it seems to be consistent with the polarization that permeates the United States and much of the world...perhaps a further sign that humanity is woefully out of balance...living largely at the extremes.

As I ponder these thoughts, I'm again reminded of the recent media focus on the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Many within the blogosphere marveled at the incessant coverage of that event and a number wrote about the apparent misplaced focus given the numerous problems facing the U.S. and the world. While I understand the argument, I don't think it precludes an attempt at understanding why we're drawn to these tabloid tragedies. In my own mental musings, it struck me that the obesity issue and the Anna Nicole Smith case are both about consumption...the feeding frenzy.

So what is it that we're feeding? The question brings to mind something my dad likes to discuss...that being what makes sports teams and sporting events so popular. His theory has always made sense to me and it seems to fit into the topic of this posting. As my dad explains it, little in life offers clarity...we frequently navigate this life with the uncertainty and the anxiety one might equate with the structure of a movie. Each of us is attempting to complete the movie that is our own life story but it can't be done in two hours or with the formulaic structure that makes the movie watching experience so satisfying. Further, the ending is virtually unknown.

The same is true of a sporting event...there is a clear objective, a defined set of rules, a finite time frame, and a winner and a loser...all achieved in a few hours...but notably absent the same tangible consequences our own life choices may bring. In essence, these events are an opportunity to be a voyeur rather than a player. It is a detached opportunity to step away from the realities of ones own existence and engage in a moment of fantasy acted out by others and providing a fifty-fifty opportunity to be a winner...a statistical equation that we must find at least equal to, or, perhaps more favorable than the odds we apply to our own potential for a "successful" outcome.

Food neatly fits into this equation in that it sustains ones opportunity to remain in the game...it provides the promise of more time to succeed...or its absence foretells of our likely demise. As the world (our daily existence) has become more convoluted and uncertain, we are apt to migrate towards those things that offer a degree of certainty. Food and sports events provide those outlets...and situations like the death of Anna Nicole Smith or the tsunami or Katrina give us reference points that reinforce our ability to conclude that our own life isn't so bad in comparison to many others.

Unfortunately, what this becomes is the process of living life by substitution. Each pound gained is symbolically the weight of our own unresolved anxiety and each time we subjugate our own success to a victory won by our favorite sports team, we begin to lose sight of our own struggle...feeding more and more on the junk food of life in an effort to ignore our own obstacles and the need to execute our own game plan. The feeding cycle expands and so do we in a perpetual process of denial...reinforced by our own observations of those who surround us...as we each expand our own denial we find reassurance in those who surround us.

Sadly, that denial also leads us to effectively ignore those who suffer the deprivations we fear...their plight must be ignored because they serve to amplify the anxiety inherent in our uniquely human awareness of our mortality. Counter intuitively, we use tragedy and suffering...self-administered in front of the television in measured doses...as the tonic of comparison. Not only do we watch the suffering in New Orleans to support our favorable existence...we must have it in order to sustain ourselves.

We send an occasional donation or invoke our outrage at the government or any number of responsible "others" in order to offset the guilt that is bound to percolate to the surface from time to time...but we do so again to feed ourselves. We choose political and ideological sides because these false constructs provide the means and the mechanism to abandon our humanity. We change the debate and the dialogue into an abstraction similar to a sporting event which provides each of us with the institutional cover necessary to detach from the ethical bankruptcy that threatens our consciousness and we feed its falsity with the frenzy of fanaticism.

Yes, there is an "insidious, creeping pandemic". And yes, it is fueled by consumption...but in a quintessential irony, it is our humanity that we are consuming. Unless we begin to value and seek more "truth", we will devour ourselves into oblivion.

Daniel DiRito | April 14, 2007 | 9:16 AM | link | Comments (0)
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