Diet, Willpower and Ulcers


This recent post on Kevin Drum’s blog motivated me to put some thoughts down on the obesity epidemic. I work with people who study obesity and type 2 diabetes for a living. And there is nothing, and I mean nothing, simple about this. Some people’s metabolism, cravings and consumption are in harmony and they maintain a steady weight. Others are out of balance and these three things work in concert to provide a steady weight gain. The percentage of people who fall into this second category increases every year.

Some people think it is simply increased access to food, less exercise, etc but there have been demographic groups who had abundant access to food and were quite sedentary (think royalty and their courts) and the percentage of morbidly obese people in those groups were significantly lower. We simply don’t really know what is pulling our natural harmony out of balance. Could be psychological as so many think. Could be some new substance in our diet. Could be the lack of some substance we used to get. Could be that one or more of the components of our appetite regulatory system has been damaged or destroyed (what if a side effect of taking broad spectrum antibiotics is that it kills a bacteria that produces something vital for this chain – pure speculation there, but interesting). Some people think it is a symptom of an infectious disease and have some (not enough) evidence to back that up. And lest you dismiss that last one, remember that forty years ago the incidence of stomach ulcers were increasing every year and it was blamed on psychology, our modern lifestyle, stress, the foods we were eating. Everyone knew this, it was simple. And then it was discovered that better than 90% of such ulcers were caused by a bacterial infection and cured with a round of antibiotics. Today the epidemic of ulcers is a distant memory.


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