I’ve left no stone unturned researching causes of obesity, so believe me when I say this talk by Dr Paul Jaminet is absolutely mind-blowing:
Many commentators on the ‘obesity epidemic’ operate from their elevated moral high-horse, and wearing vari-coloured preconceived blinkers (mixing metaphors like jelly beans here). Jaminet’s gift is cautious, careful, open-minded enquiry into root causes by gathering long-range evidence, resulting in breath-stoppingly fresh insights. He found that obesity has increased in a consistent pattern for nearly two centuries (since the 1800s), all over the globe (not just evil Western hegemonies), in all species that associate with humans (pets, farm animals, feral rats, dogs…even lab animals kept in controlled conditions, and unicellular organisms).
I was deeply worried by this. Rats all over the planet are getting obese in the same way as humans, does it mean rats are getting greedy, lazy and lacking self-control, and is the Rat Apocaplypse coming? (Remember, you heard it here first!)
Or, even more scary, are there changes everywhere, which have a side-effect of everything gaining weight outside of our control? Like the canary in the coalmine, is the very planet ill, and the most susceptible animals are getting obese first, with humans are along for the ride? Is something fundamentally rotten in the state of Denmark, as Rachel Carson eerily foreshadowed in the ‘70s; a ‘Silent Spring’ of poisons in our planetary ecosystem?
Jaminet observed the same pattern of obesity in all countries, and every species (including unicellular organisms): a log-normal distribution. Don’t glaze over; Jaminet came up with a brilliant way to show what log-normal is, and believe me, I studied lots of maths, guy’s a genius, so listen up.
Throw six dice, and total your score. Do that enough times, you’ll get a normal distribution from 6 to 36 with the median and mean of 21. If you’re a gambler, you wouldn’t bet on getting 6 (throwing six ones), or 36 (six sixes); most times the dice will add up to the middling numbers. Lots of things about humans have a normal distribution, for example height. If you line up 100 random people in order of height, most will be in the middle and there’ll be a few shorties like me under five foot, and a few over six-footers with most in the middle. Genetically, this means if you inherit six factors relating to height, they don’t interact.
And because normal distributions are well, normal, we’re used to this level of difference don’t tend to isolate those at the extremes (“Short People got no reason to live…”).
Now a lognormal distribution, take the same six dice and multiply what you get. You can get as low as 1 (1x1x1x1x1x1) but now it goes way up to 46,656 (6x6x6x6x6x6). Do that a few times, and you’ll find the most common answers still cluster near the mid-low numbers (you throw some threes or fours), but the highest numbers are eye-wateringly high. On a population basis, the middle numbers are still perceived as a normal variation, but the upper numbers seem like they are not ‘normal’, they are ‘other’ (not us); read they’re troll- and bully-bait.
With weight, Jaminet found that since the 1800s, underweight has stayed the same, the most common middling weights (‘normal weight’) have gone up a wee bit, but the ‘overweight’ group has moved way, way up, and is continuing to spread higher. I remind you, this is everywhere, and every species associated with humans.
You get a lognormal pattern if you multiply factors together, rather than add them up. What this means is that obesity depends on many factors, and that they multiply together. Someone who throws the genetic dice badly six times will find it difficult to shift their weight to within the range of “normal”, because even if they can shift a one or two of their sixes to fives, their total is still very high, miles away from threes and fours that most people throw. Like peeling an onion, they have to solve multiple problems at once to get results. People who throw mid to low dice will have no problem staying ‘normal’ weight, and hence cannot relate to the person who has thrown genetic sixes.
Weight-inducing genetic disorders could include a propensity for defective liver detoxification, thyroid dysfunction, insulin resistance, dwarfism, low stomach acid, leptin resistance, or sleep apnoea). Throw six of these, you’ve got a hard road to hoe. For many of us who remain ‘traditionally built’ despite starving and exercising more than our thin bullies (strategies proven not to work, by the way) we’re relentlessly told our obesity is ‘just’ a moral failing (take your pick, trolls: lazy, greedy, no self-control, stupid, ignorant of nutrition, junk food eaters). Jaminet’s careful research is stunning to see evidence that there are strange and powerful forces at play. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio than dreamt of in your philosophy. In the next instalment, Paul Jaminet does come to some stunning conclusions about strange causes and some powerful strategies that go beyond the inane advice that has failed us thus far.