Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Healthy Wealthy or Wise ?

The Washington Post reports a very important scientific discovery

To explore this, Zukowska and her colleagues subjected mice to chronic stress -- either standing in cold water an hour a day or being caged with a more aggressive alpha mouse for 10 minutes a day -- and then gave them standard feed or a high-fat, high-sugar diet similar to the junk-food fare many consume.

After two weeks, only the mice that were both stressed and fed the junk-food diet gained a significant amount of weight. They accumulated about twice as much fat in their bellies as non-stressed mice that consumed the same diet.


"By treating the mice the way humans are treated, which is introducing a chronic stress from which they cannot escape and introducing this abundance of food, we mimicked what happens in American society," Zukowska said.

When the researchers examined the animals' fat tissue, they discovered sharply elevated concentrations of a substance called neuropeptide Y (NPY), a chemical messenger produced by nerves in the body, including those in fat. They also had far higher levels of a molecular partner NPY needs to work, known as the neuropeptide Y2R receptor.

In this case, I really think that the word "American" is meant literally and is not being used carelessly as a synonym for "industrialized countries", "the West" or "planet earth." It is certainly true that obesity is a much bigger problem in the USA than in any other country.

I imagine many Washington Post readers splurting their coffee and saying "10 minutes a day ? 10 minutes a day !!! I spend 8 hours a day with the alpha mouse (unless my boss is a rat). Given Zukowska et al's results, it's amazing that there is anyone left alive in the USA.

I am quite serious about this. I honestly think that people are subject to extraordinary amounts of stress in the US. In Europe workers are protected by laws restricting firing and by powerful trade unions. In some countries the young are excluded, frustrated and outraged (but not yet dead of complications of obesity being young). In Japan many people work for the huge firms which really genuinely don't lay Japanese off (with stress outsourced to Malaysia). Then there is the effect of divorce which is still rarer over here. Not to mention fear of crime. I mean in the experiment the alpha mouse wasn't packing heat.

This reminds me of the amazing research of John Van Reenan PhD (genius). It seems that computers lead to high productivity in US retailing and services but not in the UK except when US firms take over UK firms and export the US way of doing business. Thus the US is very rich. I can't help believing that the stress imposed on workers by flexibility (starts with f like firing) helps explain US obesity.

Hence my title. Is it wise to go for health or wealth ? Not a great title, but better than the Post headline "Way to Shrink, Grow Fat Is Found"
which I read as "Way to Grow Fat and Shrink" reminding me of Paul Krugman's observation about how high people stand are in the low countries.

Typo corrected (thanks anonymous). To explain what I was talking about, I googled "Krugman Height." No metaphors here. His point was that people in Holland are taller than people in the US (who have found a way to shrink and to grow fat ?). The column is behind the Times Select subscription wall. Jurassicpork stole it. I didn't. I also think the title of the post should be a paraphrase of Hobbes not a quote, not "Nasty, brutish and Short" but "rich, solitary, nasty, brutish and short"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Paul Kruman's observation about how high people stand are in the low countries.

I can figure out that you mean Paul Krugman. But for the life of me, I can't figure out what the hell his observation is. Have you ever considered reading what you've typed before hitting post? (Half a mo' mate; I'm checking for typos)