The news on the front page of the Washington Post today (“Way to Shrink, Grow Fat Is Found”) did not make me jump for joy. And I’m the kind of person who DOES jump for joy – unlike those who only jump to burn calories.
Georgetown University scientists have discovered that these three things are true of mice:
1) If you stress them out (more on stress techniques for mice later) and feed them junk food, they gain more weight than their little mouse-peers who eat junk food without being stressed out; and
2) If you inject mice with Certain Stuff (more on that later too,) they don’t gain weight, even if they’re stressed AND eating junk food.
3) Injections of that same Certain Stuff can actually shrink fat deposits by up to 50 percent in two weeks.
You see why jumping for joy comes to mind. Surely, if these results hold true for humans, this Certain Stuff is going to become bigger than Google itself.
Can you imagine the line of fat people lined up to get these shots? Now add to that line all the imaginary fat people (those who obsess over fat that isn’t really there,) and the pharmaceutical company that gets the patent on this stuff is going to get one heck of a fat payday.
Here’s the catch, though. Imagine the impact on physical activity.
How many people currently exercise for the health of it? Or, better yet, the sheer joy of it?
Most people already get zero exercise.
And from the looks on the faces of the people at my gym, the large majority who exercise at all do so because of some grim determination to avoid getting fat.
What if all these people stopped riding the stationery bicycle and doing Pilates? What if the only place they ever ran was to the doctor’s office, for their next fat-blocking shot?
Here’s what would happen: There would be a lot of skinny, unhappy, unhealthy people in the world.
We know that physical activity is essential to help prevent osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, and a zillion other bad things that can happen.
We know that physical activity is an antidote to depression.
We know that people who sit around on their butts all day — even if those butts become fashionably thin — get depressed and sick.
Which is why I’m not jumping for joy.
Neither are the stressed mice, by the way. To stress them, scientists made them stand in cold water or endure the company of alpha mice. They were trying to create the mouse equivalent of chronic human stress, such as sitting in traffic – or having to endure the company of an alpha boss.
Standing in cold water does not exactly bring to mind Abu Gahraib, but for the record I do not support mouse torture techniques, and hate the thought that scientists get paid to think this stuff up.
The other thing I promised to explain is what I called Certain Stuff. It’s a substance that blocks another substance that triggers the stress-induced obesity phenomenon, apparently. Read the Washington Post story if you’re the kind of person who can understand that neuropeptidies are not a form of detergent.
All I know is that anything that gives people another excuse to avoid moving is going to be one big fat mistake.
Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation