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Biology 103
2001 First Web Report
On Serendip

OBESITY

JOELLE WEBB

It is an accepted and increasingly visible fact that on a daily basis Americans, as a nation, are gaining more and more weight. As a result of this trend, laboratories in the United States and abroad have begun to look at the potential causes of obesity among various groups of humans. Some of the suggestions have included that obesity is: a virus, genetic, a metabolic disturbance, passed on from a mother to her child, caused by infections floating in the air, or a mental and psychological disorder. None of these approaches have, as yet, been proven to be absolutely truthful or produced a cure for the epidemic sweeping through the United States. One diagnosis of select cases of obesity that I found particularly interesting was one that identified it as a virus to which certain populations are more vulnerable. It is with this hypothesis in mind that I set out to find research that supported or refuted the claim that an obesity virus exists. Obesity itself is classified as a disease and much conflicting information about it is provided on the World Wide Web. My primary objective was to decipher the targeted sites from those that reported observations that were well thought through.

Before embarking on this grand journey of exploration I first had to define what obesity was. Some sources identify obese people by their body-mass index or a comparison between weight and body frame. Due to the diverse focuses of the several websites which I used as research the definition will be non-specific. Obesity among humans is a condition where a person is severely overweight to the point where other related health problems emerge. “Obesity occurs when we eat more calories than we expend (4).” Most people think that the term can only be applied to those who gain considerable amounts of weight in short period of time. However, scientists who study obese patients are primarily concerned with their current health status and then consider how they gained the weight when devising a diet plan. People who gain as little as one pound per year can reach a point where they will be labeled unhealthy. With these criteria in mind we will go on to examine the causes and effects of obesity and its related afflictions on our nation.

Now that we know the nature of obesity we can ask how the population of the USA became so detrimentally obese. One website pointed out that a society cannot afford to have obese members until leisure time becomes a cultural norm (3). For all intents and purposes, humans only began to gain weight in excess when civilization made it possible for some citizens to live off of the products of others. Being plump meant that you lead a favorable lifestyle for a long time in across several cultures. Americans have taken this idea to an extreme with labor saving technology like washing machines and less active leisure activities like watching television and playing video games (4). The content and size of our diet has also drastically increased over the past few decades; super-sized fast food meals are now a regular part of a diet. These are environmental changes are just one part of a trend towards overweight citizens, also to be considered are: cultural, metabolic and genetic factors (3) .

When a human is overweight they are at risk of acquiring several concurrent health problems as well as social stigma. Some diseases that are common among this population are: diabetes, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease and cardiovascular disease (3). Other serious health risks include stroke, some forms of cancer and increased susceptibility to arthritis. Common sense also suggests that an overweight person would experience decreased mobility and respiratory problems. Difficulty interacting with people who discriminate against obese people would also be expected and act as another obstacle.

As the capabilities of genetic research have increased, scientists have discovered a number of trends among the genes of obese people. There have been strong correlations between the metabolic rates of twins raised separately suggesting a relationship between weight and biological factors (4). It is true that certain populations of humans tend to be heavier than other. This contributes to the idea that genetics play a role in obesity because, in general, people tend to produce children with other members of their cultural group. Therefore, the same genes are passed on within a population and the trait is passed on to the next generation. Let us also consider the differing reactions that two people’s bodies will have to the same stimuli; for example, if Jack and Jill follow the same diet and exercise regimen they will not necessarily lose the same number of pounds. The jury is not yet in on the role that genes play in weight control, but some sources genetics are responsible for up to 80% of energy management or as little as none.

Another movement that I observed on the web was one towards isolating an obesity virus. In these studies animals and people were used to show that a human adenovirus is capable of increasing the fat deposits on and organism. A paradoxical side effect of the experiments was that the cholesterol and triglycerides of the test subjects was significantly lowered, the opposite is usually observed among obese patients (1). Allegedly, the virus can be transmitted through a number of channels including the air. A surprising observation was that the obese animals in the study did not consume more energy than healthy animals (2). A website for overweight people that I found, source # 4, also mentioned two points that support these findings: 1-people who eat a Mediterranean diet which is high in fat do not experience equally high rates of obesity and 2-the vast reduction of caloric intake does not proportionately induce weight loss (on the contrary, it often prompts an increase in weight, (4)). At this point, only one or two studies are available online and so one must conclude that either the research is unreliable or not enough funding has, as yet, been allocated to the subject.

There are several reasons for exploring the phenomena of the obesity virus online further: deeper research would provide targeted treatments methods for the disease and some websites might seek to sell magical weight loss products to desperately overweight people. It is important to decipher the propaganda ridden articles from true reports. Some encouraging promises of a vaccine and further studies were at the end of the article from the CNN website. As there are no concrete answers currently or offers to cure the obesity disease or virus as it may also be, I find that existing solutions will have to suffice for the moment.

WWW Sources

1) Genetech Science updates

2)CNN Health site

3)Quantum Health Care Products

4)Obesity Medications and Research News




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