Short Cuts: Gratuitous edition.

By | February 22, 2011

A 1903 advertisement provided by The Advertising Archives via Library of Congress shows a 1903 advertisement for La Parle Obesity Soap,  that "never fails to reduce flesh" and was selling at a pricey-for-then $1 a bar. A look back at diet history shows what hasn't changed is the quest for an easy fix. (AP Photo/The Advertising Archives via Library of Congress)

Most of all, it's SAFE!

First up, we have an article from the venerable New York Times on the use of primates for obesity research. They’re also being used for research into diabetes, diet drugs, and weight-loss surgery. What makes this interesting, however, is that the obesity is induced by overfeeding said monkeys high-calorie foods, and by keeping them confined in individual cages for months or even years so they cannot exercise (or socialize, for that matter). This actually seems to me to be less a matter of studying obesity than it is studying what happens when you confine an animal and overfeed it, which is not the general experience of most fat people. Are some people fat because of overeating and a lack of free movement? Sure. Are the majority? I do not think so; I know too many fats who defy this assumption. But of course, they could be liars:

…[U]nlike human subjects who are notorious for fudging their daily calorie or carbohydrate counts, a caged monkey’s food intake is much easier for researchers to count and control. “Nonhuman primates don’t lie to you,” said Dr. Grove, who is a neuroscientist. “We know exactly how much they are eating.”

Of course, the fact that said researchers don’t know exactly how much human participants are eating would seem to indicate that perhaps the presumed connection between caloric intake and fattery is not so obvious, but what the fuck do I know? I’m not a neuroscientist.

Said monkeys are also being starved, given experimental diet drugs, and weight-loss surgery, all in the name of learning about obesity. I am not generally one who is sensitive on the subject of animal testing, but this article got under my skin a little. I’m upset by the implication that fat people sit around eating alone in closed rooms, but this work also seems a bit gratuitous to me. And I’m not alone:

Some companies see no need to use primates to study obesity and diabetes, saying it is almost as easy to do human studies. Monkey studies can cost up to several million dollars. The animals are so precious that only a small number can be used. And there are ethical reviews before a study can begin.

But hey, the monkeys aren’t big fat liars! So there’s that.

EDIT: Smartypants commenter Medea articulates a super critical point of one of the referenced studies that I completely missed:

One feature of the monkey story that got completely buried is about halfway down the text: “Still, about 40 percent do not put on a lot of weight.”

They’re feeding all the monkeys the same diet, but only 3 in 5 get fat. That’s a huge finding. And it casts some doubt on the researchers’ assertion that existing disconnects between fatness and diet can be explained by human subjects’ dishonesty. The NYT author seems to try to hide it by sandwiching it between statements about the role of carbohydrates–which has nothing do do with the fact that monkeys eating identical diets have different body composition outcomes.

Thanks Medea! I love when commenters make the important observations I overlook.

Next we have an MSNBC article about a study on weight-loss surgery, telling us something we already knew. Um, hooray! That’s funding well spent. The study says that gastric bypass surgery — that’s the cutting-up-your-insides version — produces more weight loss than lapband surgery — that’s the inflatable-silicone-donut-around-your-stomach version. This was already well established, in fact, but apparently MSNBC was hard up for an obesity article for Monday evening.

What’s odd is that this same study was framed on my local morning news as proving that gastric bypass surgery is safer than lapband surgery. Not only does MSNBC ignore this angle altogether — and if true, that would be new information, as gastric bypass has always been associated with a greater risk of complications — but it seems to be inaccurate. The MSNBC article only mentions that the study found both gastric bypass and lapband surgeries have similar risks of complications. Does this mean gastric bypass has become safer, or that the lapband is less safe than we thought? It might be in the study, but it ain’t in the MSNBC article! Of course, it’s not like we read these articles except to be reassured that everything we think we know is mostly true. Obesity obesity obesity epidemic death diabetes lapband roux-en-y blah blah blah blah blah immortality stubbornly eludes us still.

As a response to recent feminist conversations about gaming and games culture, some brilliant and magnificent soul has created “Fat, Ugly or Slutty,” a Tumblr collecting instances of harassment on various social gaming platforms. Xbox Live is, unsurprisingly, a chronic offender, but all the submissions are replete with LOLSOB potential. Laugh, or get angry, I could go either way myself.

My newest imaginary TV girlfriend, Ashley Fink, has done a charming interview with ET’s Mary Hart. You can watch some clips below.

Got any links of interest I missed? Drop ’em in comments.


CarrieP on February 22, 2011 at 10:59 am.

I do believe fattery is my new favorite word


LadyAether on February 22, 2011 at 11:18 am.

The monkey study as described seems basically useless. Yes, I am overweight, but on an average day, I eat pretty healthy meals. In fact, I would say it’s when I go out and eat that I eat more. Sure, occasionally I order food and binge alone at home, but it’s rare, especially since I don’t keep tempting foods in my apartment. Now, I don’t exercise, but I can guarantee you I’m healthier than some people I know who do and weigh much less than I do. I’m not sure how confining animals and force-feeding them will tell us anything about the habits of “obese” people (whatever obese is these days).

Oh, and I LOVE Fat, Ugly, or Slutty. Most of the posts are hilarious. 🙂


Medea on February 22, 2011 at 11:58 am.

One feature of the monkey story that got completely buried is about halfway down the text:
“Still, about 40 percent do not put on a lot of weight.”
They’re feeding all the monkeys the same diet, but only 3 in 5 get fat. That’s a huge finding. And it casts some doubt on the researchers’ assertion that existing disconnects between fatness and diet can be explained by human subjects’ dishonesty. The NYT author seems to try to hide it by sandwiching it between statements about the role of carbohydrates–which has nothing do do with the fact that monkeys eating identical diets have different body composition outcomes.


Lesley on February 22, 2011 at 12:09 pm.

Thank you for articulating this! I read the 40% statistic but didn’t register the full import, which itself is telling. If even a hyper-critical reader like myself can miss that important point, I imagine it will go unnoticed by a majority of readers. Thanks again.


Jackie on February 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm.

Yes, this! I too was appalled at how that statistic was put in the article, but completely ignored. Also The Economist had an article a few weeks ago about how they’ve found that not only women who are starved during pregnancy have children that are much more likely to be obese (and develop health problems), but also men who are starving pass the same tendency on in their sperm. It also seems to go on for generations after the initial starvation.
I think it’s fascinating how important genetics are in all of this. One never hears about the genetics side of things.


Lesley on February 22, 2011 at 7:58 pm.

That actually makes a lot of sense: if offspring are born to parents who have known starvation, then it would seem logical that their offspring would be born with characteristics designed to offset the effects of starvation. Really interesting.


Roxie on February 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm.

I didn’t know how much I loved Ashley Fink. It’s a hell of a whole lot!


kbryna on February 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm.

Ashley Fink is awesome. love her anecdote about “Fat bottomed girls” – “I’m ONE OF MANY!”
[haven’t seen Mary Hart in years. what’s a nice way to say o.O ?]

My animal-rights buttons ARE triggered by virtually all testing-on-animals, and this business with the monkeys is not an exception. It’s especially appalling when you read that it’s not at all necessary to use monkeys; consenting humans are available and usable.

And how about questioning the reason WHY people might lie about their caloric intake and what they eat? HMMM? Couldn’t be because they go through life being shamed for eating what they eat, could it? Gosh. Wonder how THAT happens.



vesta44 on February 22, 2011 at 1:30 pm.

The ethics of using primates for this kind of thing boggles my mind. I’m sorry, but they’ve already been experimenting on humans for years with all kinds of WLS and know how well it does/does not work, what the complications are in each variety of WLS, etc. I’m betting that if they took the monkeys out of the cages and quit force-feeding them, every one of those monkeys would go back to its normal weight – and that would knock their “obesity research” into a cocked hat. It would show them that there are more reasons for being fat than just sitting around in a room all day, not moving, and stuffing one’s face with all manner of “unhealthy” food (we’re not researchers and we know that). But there again, that doesn’t bring in money, and sure doesn’t advance the agenda for this created “obesity epidemic” that doesn’t really exist.
As for diabetes research, do they really want a cure for it, or are they just looking for more drugs to treat it? A cure isn’t going to make money for the pharmaceutical companies, but more drugs to treat diabetes will bring in tons more money. Again, the ethics of using primates who can’t consent bothers me, a lot.


Kristin on February 22, 2011 at 1:47 pm.

The fact that Ashley sites Roseanne as an inspiration is freaking amazing. Love that, love her.


Zoe Danger Awesome on February 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm.

Ashley Fink marry me!!!! good god I love that girl. That interview was awesome. The ad that played before it was for The Biggest Loser though, I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. I decided to laugh.

Also, obesity soap. That hilarious.


JillyX on February 22, 2011 at 3:05 pm.

Re the Obesity Soap ad… it comes in packages of two cakes… two whole cakes. Coincidence? I think not.


Lesley on February 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm.

Whoa… this could be the first documented historical evidence of two whole cakes as being connected to fattery. Good eye.


Christina on February 22, 2011 at 4:48 pm.

How could you not want to be Ashley Fink’s best friend after watching that interview? Thanks for posting it.
I thought the same thing about the NYT article about the animal study on obesity. It’s supposed to be “science” (and therefore objective), but the biases are so apparent.


Lesley on February 22, 2011 at 7:51 pm.

Oh, Christina Kelly, you totally taught me how to be cool. I am overwhelmed with uncynical joy to see you reading/commenting here, and also to see that you also have a blog I can read. This is fucking outstanding.


Willow on February 22, 2011 at 5:14 pm.

Not liking the animal testing one bit 🙁 Not one fucking bit. I hope the primates start flinging their poo at the researchers.


Willow on February 22, 2011 at 5:19 pm.

Oh, and btw, my two thinnest friends insisted on making grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon fat instead of olive oil last night. They eat this way all the time, though they exercise enough to burn off the calories. But they don’t seem to understand that bacon fat used in place of olive oil is not healthy. It’s their choices, their lives, so enjoy the bacon fat (no sarcasm – I love bacon), but I find it ironic that I exercise five times a week, eat healthier than they do, and am about 50 lbs heavier than my 180 lb guy friend. WTF?


Sarah @ Dysblogger on February 22, 2011 at 5:34 pm.

I always enjoy watching you bring out the slighted facts in the news- especially when it comes to obesity. Muchas gracais.


Margo DeMello on February 22, 2011 at 5:48 pm.

I agree with some of the commenters here who had a huge problem with the ethics of using non-human primates to starve, overfeed, or test drugs on. There are so many problems with using monkeys in this kind of research that I’m beside myself. Thanks Lesley for alerting us to this travesty of science.


Paco on February 22, 2011 at 6:38 pm.

I feel like this is the Inception of fattery. Fatish Rush Limbaugh criticizes Michelle Obama’s weight, who is pushing the “Let’s Move” Campaign.


Willow on February 24, 2011 at 8:10 pm.

Rush Limbaugh has no right to criticise anyone’s weight, regardless of how fat or thin he is. Everyone’s size is her/his own business.

Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Campaign is too Nanny State for me. She should stash it where the sun don’t shine.


closetpuritan on February 25, 2011 at 11:34 pm.

I think a couple people in comments referenced “force-feeding” the monkeys–they didn’t actually force-feed them based on that article, they just made food available to them more than normal, used an animal that will eat when it’s bored, and kept them in a cage where they couldn’t move around much to alleviate their boredom. (Whether this is less cruel than force-feeding is debatable, though.) Which will only tell them about people who are fat primarily because they are sedentary and eat when they’re bored. It’s not gonna tell them as much about people who are fat even if they get a decent amount of activity and don’t eat just because they’re bored. I also wonder what unintended consequences they’re introducing by isolating the monkeys–things like stress and depression have their own effects on disease.
I noticed that the 40% of monkeys who remained thin was similar to the percentage of Americans who are not overweight or obese based on BMI. (Longer version here:

I’m more troubled about the ethics of keeping monkeys in individual cages, given that they’re such social animals, than about feeding ethics. I mean, we’re debating whether solitary confinement for humans is torture.

The article also said that SOME experiments could be done on humans, but there was one in particular where monkey fetuses were killed and dissected.


Willow on February 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm.

I’m appalled at how animals are treated in scientific experiments. Beyond appalled, actually. Especially the way they treat animals for makeup – makeup? Really? Makeup is worth torturing animals? Then we come to fur, “fake” fur (which usually means dog or cat fur), etc., etc. I don’t believe in animal testing even for cancer – if you want to cure cancer for humans, then use humans in your experiments. Not a single one of us has the right to use animals in this way. I found the article extremely, terribly, awfully depressing for this reason alone.


lovetothecakegirls on February 28, 2011 at 8:16 am.

Y’all know I love you, but I also work a cubicle job where getting up and taking brisk walks every hour – which is what suits me best, activity-wise, lots of intermittent movement and fresh air – is not heavily encouraged. Honestly, I feel like a caged chimpanzee sometimes, and I totally eat because I’m bored. I’ve probably gained a little bit of weight, objectively, but not enough to change my fatness categorization. (I am, on the BMI chart, classified as merely “fat-ish”, though god knows my GP only stops hounding me about it on direct request.)

For one thing, since I stopped messing with my belly by trying to diet, if I eat a lot at work because I’m going to scream if I don’t have an excuse to leave my cubicle, I’m not particularly hungry for dinner and tend to just eat an orange. It’s totally fucking with my health, though. My resting heart rate was a lot lower when I was in the same basic bracket of “kind of fat” but was taking fifteen-minute walks every hour and a half in undergrad. And I had way less anxiety, and was way less cranky, which is the kind of thing people fail to objectively measure in the monkeys too.


Fatshion Hustler on March 6, 2011 at 11:47 am.

I LOVE Ashley Fink, and I LOVE Glee for having that sort of character on there. I mean, I think they were already there with Mercedes, and with that fantastic episode in season 1 where she’s trying to lose weight, but having another character on there like Lauren is great, and it helps me stand by my belief that Glee is a rare gem of a fat-positive show.


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