7 Studies That Prove Fat-Shamers Are on the Wrong Side of Science
"Put down the burger." "Get to the gym." "Don't you care about yourself?"
The calorie-driven, carb-counting messages informing our decisions regarding weight loss and weight gain seem to have something in common: They put a lot of pressure on people of size to change life-long behaviors.
Personal responsibility is a fragment of the picture. Asking overweight or obese people to shoulder the entire burden of America's $200 billion-a-year obesity problem won't end it. Several recent studies have begun to chip away at the obesity myths and show us the reality. And it's not all about what's on your plate.
1. There may be a master switch controlling our body weights.
First of all, there are two types of fat. Brown fat helps burn calories and white fat insulates our bodies (particularly our bellies, legs and butt) to keep us warm.
Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School recently discovered that our body's "obesity gene," known as FTO, may program certain immature fat cells to become white fat rather than brown fat, Medical News Today reports. And whether or not our obesity gene turns the cells into white or brown fat is part of our genetic code, not due to our behaviors.
Scientists are hoping that by editing a piece of the FTO gene, they may be able to reprogram our bodies to produce more brown fat.
2. Having less food may actually cause childhood obesity.
Food insecurity — a lack of access to food for an active, healthy life — may actually cause obesity in our nation's children, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. The study uses data from a nationwide survey of United States children from 1999 to 2006. The data show that the less access a child had to food, the higher the child's body mass index was, and that kids from households with very low food security had a higher obesity prevalence rate than the national average of 18.4%.
Food insecurity disproportionately affects our nation's low-income households and households of color. The former study's authors wrote students with more access to food may also have more access to other health benefits, like spaces for physical activity. Also, kids from homes that can afford food "may also have diets that avoid inexpensive high-fat, high-sugar and energy-dense foods."
3. Bacteria in your gut may determine your weight more than you do.
You have trillions — yes, trillions — of bacteria in your stomach. The type of bacteria you have in your gut may be determined by your genes, not what you eat. And the type, number and diversity of these genes play a central role in our digestion, metabolism and whether we are prone to things like type 2 diabetes or obesity.
A recent study published in Cell Metabolism theorizes a diet may be most effective by identifying the types of bacteria that live in your gut. Another study from the Joslin Diabetes Center recently showed that people who are overweight or obese have completely different gut bacteria than those who are not and that transferring bacteria between people may be a potential obesity cure.
4. Firstborn kids may be more prone to obesity than younger siblings.
In a study of more than 26,000 Swedish women, older sisters were found to be 40% more likely to be at risk for obesity, Medical News Today reports. According to the researchers, that data is in line with earlier studies on men, as well. They caught up with sisters during their first three months of pregnancy: Firstborn women had a BMI 2.4% higher than their younger sisters.
"Our study corroborates other large studies on men, as we showed that firstborn women have greater BMI and are more likely to be overweight or obese than their secondborn sisters," the study authors wrote.
5. Being overweight actually makes it a lot harder to lose weight.
Knowing that you are overweight and the stress of carrying that stigma may actually force overweight people to gain, rather than shed, pounds. A paper published in the International Journal of Obesity "found consistent evidence that perceiving oneself as being overweight was associated with increased weight gain," the Guardian reports. One of the three studies in the paper found the stress of being perceived as overweight can cause people to comfort-eat to relieve stress, leading to weight gain.
Another study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that the higher your BMI, the less likely you are to achieve a BMI in a medically-acceptable range.
6. Just one lost night of sleep can affect your weight.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen found lack of sleep can lead to a decrease in physical activity, an uptick in alcohol intake and weight gain. Swedish researchers found that losing even one night of sleep can alter our genes and affect metabolic processes, including the way we process sugar.
"Better knowledge of the importance of sleep, not just for biological restitution, but also for making healthy lifestyle decisions, may help people make informed decisions about prioritizing how to spend the night – catching up on work emails, surfing social media or going to bed and ensuring a good night's sleep," said Alice Jessie Clark from the University of Copenhagen's Department of Public Health.
7. Fat-shaming can cause weight gain, too.
Those who make others feel bad because of their weight may be a part of the problem, according to research from the University College of London. Researchers spoke to people who reported disrespectful treatment or harassment in public.
Over a period of four years, those who reported weight discrimination gained weight, while those who did not lost weight. Lead author Dr. Sarah Jackson of UCL's Epidemiology and Public Health Department said, "There is no justification for discriminating against people because of their weight."