Fat-Shaming, Science, and Art

fat-shaming-illustration

For Mic.com, Mathew Rodriguez complied a list of “7 Studies That Prove Fat-Shamers Are on the Wrong Side of Science.” For starters, humans have an obesity gene called FTO which, according to a Harvard/MIT study, can probably program immature cells to become either brown fat (the kind that burns calories) or white fat (the kind that just sits around and gives us a bulky look), and there is currently nothing we can do about it.

Food insecurity is a big problem in our society. Even when good fresh produce and other healthful foods are available (which is not always the case), many families go for the stomach-filling processed pseudo-foods because they cost less.

Rodriguez says:

The data show that the less access a child had to food, the higher the child’s body mass index was, and that kids from households with very low food security had a higher obesity prevalence rate than the national average of 18.4%.

Every day, the gut microbiome gains more recognition as a player in the obesity game. The bacteria that live inside us like tenants in a boardinghouse seem to have quite a lot of power, and science is just at the first tentative edge of discovering the multitudinous secrets lodged among our intestinal villi. At the moment, the only certainty is that we really need to pay attention to our inner bugs because, tiny as they are, they just might have the upper hand.

The eldest sibling in a family has an increased risk of obesity — by a factor of as much as 40%, according to a Swedish study, and, again, there is nothing we can do about our birth order. The probability of obesity for the firstborn seems to apply to male children as well as females. Also, it has been shown that the stress of being considered overweight can drive people to eat even more; and the more overweight a person is, the less likely it is that she or he will ever achieve normal weight.

Researchers in Copenhagen discovered that “losing even one night of sleep can alter our genes and affect metabolic processes, including the way we process sugar.” Lastly, weight discrimination (including fat-shaming and bullying) definitely exacerbates the problem.

Art

Actor Leonard Nimoy was also a photographer, and one of his photo suites depicts the very opposite of fat-shaming. “The Full Body Project” commemorates a group of women performance artists who formed a burlesque troupe known as the “Fat Bottom Revue.” In some of the pictures, the composition deliberately imitates famous paintings. The limited edition black and white photos were hand printed by Nimoy in his own darkroom.

In the “Artist’s Statement” for the gallery he wrote:

I hear comments, which lead to questions. The questions lead to discussions — about beauty, social acceptability, plastic surgery, our culture and health. In these pictures these women are proudly wearing their own skin. They respect themselves and I hope that my images convey that to others…

These women are projecting an image that is their own. And one that also stems from their own story rather than mine. Their self-esteem is strong… They will tell you that too many people suffer because the body they live in is not the body you find in the fashion magazines.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “7 Studies That Prove Fat-Shamers Are on the Wrong Side of Science,” Mic.com, 09/17/15
Source: “Leonard Nimoy — The Full Body Project,” RMichelson.com, undated
Photo credit: corbacserdar/123RF Stock Photo

Government Official Credits Being Big to Chocolate Milk

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is meeting with Senator Claire McCaskill on April 4, 2017, to discuss Missouri’s agriculture needs.

Newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue rolled back some Obama-era school lunch rules, arguing that if students refuse to eat the nutritious food and it winds up in the trash can, the entire intent of the program is undermined. He said:

This announcement is the result of years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing… A perfect example is in the south, where the schools want to serve grits. But the whole grain variety has little black flakes in it, and the kids won’t eat it. The school is compliant with the whole grain requirements, but no one is eating the grits. That doesn’t make any sense.

It’s hard to argue with such an assertion. With this in mind, Childhood Obesity News ended yesterday’s post by remarking that every story has two sides. It might be equally relevant to observe that every politician has two faces.

The change was also referred to by Sec. Perdue himself as restoring to local control the guidelines concerning salt, milk and whole grains. This is hard to reconcile with the headline in another publication that reads, “Sonny Perdue changes school lunch rules, but says Obama standards for milk, grains remain.”

Well, which is it? Actually, it seems that whatever change may be in store for the standards set at the encouragement of former First Lady Michelle Obama, the beginning is slow. In the areas of whole grains and sodium, the time period for using more of one and less of the other has been extended.

Nutrition policy researcher David Pelletier describes what seems not so much a direct attack, as a policy of purposeful neglect — “He is not changing the standards per se, but he is allowing schools to not follow them.”

In a letter to editor of USA Today, Rachna Govani of Foodstand points out that premature cardiovascular death is currently attributed to, among other things, a deficit of whole grains and an excess of salt in the diet. She also brings up two other cogent points:

Physical activity, though important, is outweighed by diet when it comes to fighting obesity. Yet physical activity has been used by big food, big soda and now Perdue as a red herring. His message about exercise promotion mirrors the debunked propaganda big soda promoted.

Sometimes school lunch is the closest thing to a balanced meal — or any meal for that matter — that some children eat each day. Secretary Perdue went to the lunchroom of a Virginia elementary school to announce the new rules, and told the kids:

I wouldn’t be as big as I am today without chocolate milk.

What the heck? As we see from this photo taken at meeting with Senator Claire McCaskill, Sec. Perdue is a fairly large man. It sounds as if he is endorsing obesity, with the recommendation to achieve it through chocolate milk!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Ag Secretary Perdue Moves to Make School Meals Great Again,” USDA.gov, 05/01/17
Source: “Sonny Perdue changes school lunch rules, but says Obama standards for milk, grains remain,” Politifact.com, 05/04/17
Source: “School lunches could lose nutritional value,” USAToday.com, 05/15/17
Photo credit: Senator McCaskill via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

New Leadership at USDA

barbie-coca-cola-label

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) “provides leadership on,” in other words, is the boss of, “natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues.” One of the department’s claims is that it bases its activities on the best available science. Some Americans believe that weather has a great deal to do with the availability of food, and fear that other branches of the government are impeding weather science to the point where nobody will have any food, and obesity will no longer be a problem.

Nearly 100,000 USDA employees work in several sub-bureaus, or Mission Areas. These include farms, foreign agriculture, risk management, forests, research, education, rural development, and the conservation of natural resources. The department handles food safety and inspection, and the domestic and international marketing of U.S. agricultural products. Also:

Its agencies administer federal domestic nutrition assistance programs and the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which links scientific research to the nutrition needs of consumers through science-based dietary guidance, nutrition policy coordination, and nutrition education.

The USDA recently acquired a new Big Boss, Sonny Perdue, who once ran a fertilizer business and then spent several years as governor of Georgia and welcomed contributions to his ongoing campaign as much as the next politician. When that was over, he started a global corporation whose product is food.

Genna Reed, a science and policy analyst at the Center for Science and Democracy, wrote, “It comes as no surprise that a man with extensive ties to agribusiness would be tapped to lead USDA…” Indeed, it is good when a person’s experience in a field helps them do their next job better; but not so good when ties to that field encourage favoritism and corruption.

On the question of where one ends and the other begins, a conversation can always be started. In politics, even the appearance of a conflict of interest is “not a good look.”

Reed’s remarks were published by the Union of Concerned Scientists. She discusses how any Secretary of Agriculture “must make science-based decisions in the face of overwhelming influence from a number of stakeholders.” Always, stakeholders include people who financially supported the official’s political ambitions as an investment.

Naturally, they might assume that now is the time to call in favors and see the investment pay off. Reed says:

Coca-Cola contributed the maximum amount ($50,000) to Perdue’s first gubernatorial campaign in 2003. And while Coca-Cola sold millions of sugary beverages to children across the country, Perdue praised the company at the grand opening of the New World of Coca-Cola Museum in 2007: “We’re here to celebrate the history of a great company, but also the future of a great company. It has never lost its way.”

Since then, Coca-Cola’s reputation has suffered, as revelations of its intentional influence of science and marketing sugary drinks to vulnerable children has come to light.

After being sworn in last month, Secretary Perdue immediately set about dismantling the school lunch program promoted by former First Lady Michelle Obama. In government terminology, this is phrased as restoring the guidelines that have limited whole grains, salt and milk to local control. Messing with school lunches sounds like a potential disaster, but, as always, there are two sides to a story.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Mission Areas,” USDA.gov, undated
Source: “USDA Nominee Perdue’s Connection to Coca-Cola is Deeper Than Georgia Roots,” ucusa.org, 01/19/17
Source: “Ag Secretary Perdue Moves to Make School Meals Great Again,” USDA.gov, 05/01/17
Barbie on the scales
Photo credit: Laura Lewis via Visualhunt/CC BY

Culture, Health, and the Appalling Thing About Teenagers

salud-america-infographic

Dictators have it easy. A tyrant only needs to say, “Do it” — and await the results, backed up by paddy wagons and prison cells dedicated to convincing dissenters to see the error of their ways. In a free country, getting people to do what is good for them is not so easy. This is especially true with health matters, which are by their very nature often quite private. When encouraging the desired behavior seems likely to step on cultural toes, the difficulties multiply.

Childhood Obesity News has mentioned MALDEF, a legal organization interested in preserving civil rights that is backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. MALDEF has observed that Mexican American and African American kids are more likely than white kids to suffer from both obesity and diabetes.

The sociological conditions responsible include food insecurity and other consequences of economic inequality. The group works hard to educate legislators at every level of government.

Here is a frightening fact of American life. Among women of Hispanic ancestry, the fourth most prevalent cause of death is type 2 diabetes. That’s the kind people don’t need to get, the kind that can be prevented, slowed, and in some cases, reversed. Nevertheless, the Centers for Disease Control predicts that, of all the Mexican American children born since the millennium, 50% — that’s half of them — will develop type 2 diabetes.

In December, Salud America!, a national obesity prevention network that focuses its efforts on the Mexican American population, issued a report that featured bad news. Spokesperson Rosalie Aguilar told the press:

For Latino kids in particular, we know that they start drinking sugary drinks at a very young age. Nearly 70% of children by the age of 2 have already consumed a sugary drink, compared to only 45% of the non-Latino white population.

The results do not take long to show up. The kids who are drinking even one sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) per week are more than twice as likely already to be obese by the time they start kindergarten.

A CDC survey revealed that, not surprisingly, children consume increasing amounts of SSBs as they grow older. Here is a breakdown:

Based on a percentage of total daily calories, black children consumed the most (7.9% for boys, 8.9% for girls), but only slightly more than white children (7.6% and 7.5%), who were followed by Hispanics (7.3% and 6.8%). The study found Asian children drank almost half as much as the top three groups (3.5% and 3.6%)

Perhaps the most alarming conclusion from that study is, when all the races are averaged out, American teenagers of whatever variety apparently get almost 10% of their total daily calories from sugary drinks. If accurate, this is appalling.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Sugary Drinks Add To Latino Childhood Obesity Risk,” TPR.org, 12/05/16
Source: “Alarming number of kids are slurping down sugary drinks, survey finds,” USAToday.com 01/26/17
Image by Salud America!

Coke Again

vicious-cycle-grazing

Drinking, throughout the day, anything but water is a subset of grazing. Dr. Pretlow and his co-author Carol M. Stock point out this seemingly obvious but under-recognized fact in “Addiction Model Intervention for Obesity in Young People.”

Here is the quotation:

Grazing is eating or drinking continually. Keeping candy in your pocket or desk, always sipping a soda, frequent trips to the “goodies” table at work or school, and frequent getting snacks from the vending machine are examples of grazing.

Grazing is one of the detrimental behaviors that the W8Loss2Go smartphone app was created to deal with. Excessive eating is as much an addiction as snorting cocaine or gambling. Overeating may be a substance addiction, or more likely a behavioral addiction, or it may be varying proportions of both, depending on the individual. The important thing to know is that overeating responds to addiction treatment methods. This applies to the consumption of liquids, as well as solid foods.

Withdrawal does not have to be traumatic, but can be accomplished gradually. There are pharmaceuticals that a patient cannot just decide to stop taking, because abrupt deprivation would be literally fatal. But a patient can be weaned from the medication by the administration of ever-decreasing amounts. If it can work with those powerful substances, how could it not work with mere sugar-sweetened beverages?

Whether liquid or solid, the steps are the same: staged withdrawal, followed by abstinence. Change is made in small, even micro increments. As an example, the presentation speaks of gradually diluting soda over a period of time. But again, as always, people are all different, to the point where “the ‘cold turkey’ approach of substantial food changes may be tolerated in select individuals.”

This does not sound good

Childhood Obesity News has not highlighted the perfidy of the soda pop industry for a while, so here goes. Less than a month ago, Corporate Campaign, Inc. sent out a press release. The company, founded in 1981, provides “tools to challenge unbridled corporate and political greed.” Their message describes the problem.

The Coca-Cola Company has a new CEO, James Quincey. Previously, he served his corporate masters as president of the soda giant’s Mexico division. Allegedly, a scheme involving labor-law violations defrauded Mexico, workers and government alike, of billions of dollars.

The roots of the alleged crime go back 30 years, though it was brought to light only 10 years ago when a marketing executive (who apparently was fired for having ethics) became a whistleblower. Although Quincey was in charge of Mexico a relatively short time, from 2005 to 2008, part of this situation did happen on his watch, and may still be ongoing. Now, James Quincey is the Big Boss, which some critics believe is worthy of concern.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Addiction Model Intervention for Obesity in Young People,” Weigh2Rock.com, 2014
Source: “Incoming Coca-Cola CEO Charged With Condoning Scheme to Defraud Mexican Government and Workers Out of Billions of Dollars,” ymlp.com, 04/24/17
Image by Weigh2Rock.com

The Battle for Impressionable Minds

fast-food-cartoon-characters

Let’s continue to slog through the vexed history of the United Kingdom’s effort to quell obesity. As we have seen, when the long-awaited “Childhood obesity: a plan for action” came out last summer, it disappointed everyone who noticed how much it had shrunk and weakened since the early drafts.

The pathetically gutted document signaled the intention of continuing governmental inaction in several areas, including media regulation. Some wanted — and still want — tighter control over junk food advertising. This feeling was exacerbated when a charitable organization issued a report on that very topic.

True, junk food advertising on television during children’s programming had already been banned. But scientists working for Cancer Research UK discovered that a lot of kids were seeing ads in what are considered to be the family TV-viewing hours. The accusations against the industry and its flacks are described by journalist Danny Gridley:

In addition to using Facebook to target potential consumers, their advertisements are filled with famous celebrities, catchy jingles, laughs, and bright colors. These tactics are working scarily well.

The researchers chronicled the reactions of actual children, like the girl who explained that when you see a guy dancing in an advertisement, you naturally conclude that he is so happy because of the junk food he just scarfed down. A boy said that when a food advertisement ended, he wanted to lick the TV screen. No wonder the grownups freaked out.

More than 30 health-oriented groups, each with its own particular focus and its own target issue, backed Cancer Research UK in agitating for change. They wanted to keep TV free of junk food marketing until what the Brits call the “watershed” time of 9 p.m.

Sympathy for the devil

Less than two months ago, Megan Tatum outlined McDonald’s situation for The Grocer, which publishes an annual Advertising Report. In 2016, the mega-corporation spent more on advertising than any other food or drink outfit in the British Isles. How much, you ask? £85m (85 million pounds), equivalent to almost $110 million. We’re talking about television, radio, outdoor display advertising, and print.

Now, get this. Malcolm Clark, of the Children’s Food Campaign — this is one of the good guys, mind you — told the press that it wasn’t such a big deal, because Mickey D has been “generally more engaged and proactive to concerns” than its competitors, which sets a pretty low bar for excellence.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Junk Food Advertisements Are Way Too Good at Reaching Children,” TheDailyMeal.com, 07/05/16
Source: “McDonald/s is the new no 1 in UK food and drink ad spend,” TheGrocer.co.uk, 03/31/17
Image by nk2549/123RF Stock Photo

Recent Obesity-Related Kerfuffles

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Bless the Daily Mail for its customary bullet-point style, which can clarify even a half-century-old scandal. Back in the 1960s, researchers were not required to divulge any conflicts of interest that might make their findings more interesting if the public knew about those conflicts.

Last September, JAMA Internal Medicine issued a special report illuminating the unwisdom of that old policy. Here is the bottom line, as phrased by Mia DeGraaf:

The sugar industry paid prestigious Harvard scientists to publish research saying fat — not sugar — was a key cause of heart disease… It meant sugar chiefs could work closely with researchers to re-draft and re-draft their paper until it was “satisfactory” — without having to report their involvement… The result shaped public health approaches to nutrition for years.

Years? More like decades. Nobody figured out until 1984 that the crooked 1967 research was funded by the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), aka the Sugar Association. And it just recently came to light that a certain doctor was “commissioned by the SRF to reach a specific conclusion.”

Consequently, dietary fat got a bum rap, and millions of people missed out on the potential health benefits of good cholesterol, and were conned into substituting products filled with deadly trans fats. And sugar, of course. To make up for the missing flavor that had been supplied by reasonable and necessary dietary fat, everyone began to consume mountains of deadly crystal, powder, and fluid.

When asked about this recently, the Sugar Association said that “when the studies in question were published funding disclosures and transparency standards were not the norm they are today.” In other words, the were able to get away with it and so they did.

Wait, there’s more

That was not the only food-related scandal that came out in 2016. For Eater.com, Chris Fuhrmeister reported on several others. Just when people were warming up to the idea that a healthy diet can include olive oil, news of adulterated and misleadingly-labeled olive oil burst into the headlines, and the governments of both Italy and the U.S. began to take a closer look.

A company that makes meal replacement bars and drink powder audaciously named its products Soylent. (This branding was an homage to the 1973 horror movie Soylent Green in which a corporation sold food made from human bodies.) At any rate, last fall several people got sick from Soylent bars, specifically from some kind of algae that was part of the recipe.

Various fast-food franchises apparently got into legal tiffs over who invented which kind of fancy burger or whatever. A product called Just Mayo got in trouble for shady marketing practices. Many restaurants’ farm-to-table freshness claims were exposed as lies. McDonald’s staged a publicity stunt by paying a real chef to use their ingredients to deceive journalists who write about food. Then there was a mail-order wine Ponzi scheme that needn’t concern us here.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Revealed: How the sugar industry paid prestigious Harvard researchers to say fat (NOT sugar) caused heart disease,” DailyMail.co.uk, 09/12/16
Source: “The Wildest Food Scandals of 2016,” Eater.com, 12/30/16
Image by Bryan Ledgard on Flickr

Where Did Pokemon Go?

pokemon-center-tokyo

Remember Pokemon GO? Last summer, it was all the rage, sending people of every demographic group out into the streets, parks and other public spaces to catch imaginary critters accessed through a phone app. For a while there, optimists even allowed themselves to believe that the game could be the answer to childhood obesity.

Gaming expert Jane McGonigal wrote:

Less successful games fail to motivate people because users know they’re supposed to be getting “tricked” into enjoying exercise. Pokemon GO comes at it from the opposite angle. People don’t have to want to exercise; they just have to want to play this game.

But we don’t hear so much about Pokemon GO anymore. So what happened? Did people simply stop wanting to play the game? Did dropping out have anything to do with the health benefits or lack thereof?

A team of Harvard University researchers wondered whether any physical fitness was actually being attained. The recruited a bunch of players and another bunch of non-players, all in the 18-35 year age group, and kept track of the number of daily steps everybody took for two and a half months.

Allee Manning wrote:

They found that Pokemon Go did, in fact, spur a significant increase in user activity for a short time following its June release. However, these habits hardly caught on. In the weeks following the game’s initial download, the players’ step counts returned back to normal.

It took, on average, six weeks for the “Pokemon Go effect” to wear off and for people to return to whatever level of non-exercise they had previously been comfortable with. The researchers were also curious about mental health, and learned that the game had lured some depressed and anxious people to get out into the world a little more. On the other hand, it was not without hazards, sending some players to hospital emergency rooms with “distraction-related” injuries.

Mobile gaming, Manning says, has always faced this retention challenge. Novelty is a huge motivator, and people are always chasing after the new. The developers work hard to provide newness within the game, and plenty of players took part in last month’s Easter Eggstravaganza. A new game, or even a reset of Pokemon GO, would come with a big disadvantage — starting all over, back at what in pre-digital times used to be known as Square One.

Forbes contributor Paul Tassi writes:

Pokemon GO has been an absolutely massive time and energy investment for players… Pokemon GO requires actual, physical work, hundreds or even thousands of miles (kilometers) of walking to catch Pokemon, hatch eggs and train buddies.

Which brings up another aspect, recently exposed by Jacob Siegal in a piece titled “Niantic is finally addressing Pokemon Go’s biggest problem.” This problem is spoofing, otherwise known as cheating, described thusly:

[…] when players use apps and online tools to move around the map in Pokemon Go without actually setting foot outside. This obviously gives spoofers a huge advantage over other players…

Leaving aside all the other implications of cheating, this method of play certainly fails to provide any healthful exercise to anyone.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “‘Pokemon GO’ may have gotten kids more active in a week than the White House has in years,” BusinessInsider.com, 07/14/16
Source: “Pokemon Go Wasn’t The Exercise Regimen It Was Hyped To Be,” Vocativ.com, 12/13/16
Source: “Niantic is finally addressing Pokemon Go’s biggest problem,” BGR.com, 04/19/17
Photo credit: heiwa4126 via Visualhunt/CC BY

Elusive Motivation

ball-in-net-on-basketball-court

Sociology professor Renata Forste of Brigham Young University researched the reasons why teen obesity causes unhappiness:

After self-image, the second-most influential factor for teens is their perception of school. Compared to other teens, those who are overweight or obese liked school less and felt like they were performing poorly with their schoolwork. Relationships with peers and parents also suffer, and it all adds up to a less happy adolescence — particularly for teen girls.

Okay, it is pretty well known that overweight and obese kids have a rough time of it, out in the world. Pragmatically speaking, it seems as if the desire to escape from misery would be enough of an impetus to stimulate efforts toward change. Why is this so often not the case?

A lot of kids just don’t have any basis for comparison. Maybe they have never had a day whey they liked the way they looked; never known the satisfaction of seeing an “A” at the top of a test paper; never known relationships to be loving or even warm. Currently it is fashionable to disparage the “participation trophy” culture, where everybody gets some kind of recognition. Some say positive reinforcement turns children into brats who grow up to be inadequate citizens.

Aspirations

But how are kids supposed to know there is something better to reach for? Sure, they observe from real life and the media that some people apparently do have more fulfilling lives. It can even seem like everybody and anybody has a better life. But without ever having been introduced to positive feelings, it is harder to aim in that direction. Actual lived experience is influential in a way that nothing can replace.

Chrisetta Mosley, who once weighed almost 400 pounds, said:

For years, I wore my fatness like a wounded soldier wears a Purple Heart — with pride. I owned the look. I dressed it up. I worked the room. There wasn’t a skinny girl who intimidated me. I made sure my hair was laid just right. Nails polished. Outfits coordinated to the tee.

“I’ll show you” and “I have a right to be different” are admirable motivators if you are Joan of Arc or Dr. Martin Luther King. Mavericks who operate from intellectual or ideological conviction often become historical figures and appear on their nations’ postage stamps.

It is more of a struggle to sustain high-minded enthusiasm for excess poundage. Like smoking cigarettes, obesity is difficult to defend.

Registered nurse and certified fitness trainer LaTasha Lewis reports that her adolescent problem was not obesity but being flat-chested. Although her mother made efforts to raise her and her sisters’ self-esteem, Lewis says she bought T-shirts that said “Flat is beautiful” and “Please be patient with me, God is not through with me yet.”

She talks about a chubby young nephew who spent the summers at fitness camp. The nephew’s specific motivation is not mentioned but it might have been sports. By age 15, he was a three-sport athlete at school and hit the 6-foot tall mark with 8.5% body fat, so the moral of that story is, sometimes you just have to wait, and the overweight relative you worry about will get it together.

About impatience, Lewis says:

This area is where a lot of us fall short; we want results now! We want quick fixes. We want the results without the work. We want the blooming flowers without the rain. We want to be on top of the mountain, but we don’t want to climb.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Trio of studies examine obesity in American families,” MedicalXpress.com, 07/18/12
Source: “In between, the past,” Blogspot.com, 11/16/14
Source: “Don’t give up! Your body is still under construction,” Freep.com, 10/04/15
Photo credit: slgckgc via Visualhunt/CC BY

Microbiota and Their Genes

cartoon-detective

As humans, we all have resident bacteria messing around with our insides, interfering with our genes for better or worse. It’s like the tenants in the basement are in charge of the circuit breaker box, and can affect any light fixture, garage door, or electric can opener, by switching it on or off at will.

Their will, not ours. So it behooves us to figure out what they are doing, and what they call themselves doing, because their actions and motives are both are important if we are to coexist.

The eventual goal is to manipulate the microbial consortia “by altering their ecology and gearing them towards desirable outcomes…” Meanwhile, we have to put up with them and their ways. Not only is it an arranged marriage we can’t get out of but the microbiota can decide to give us Type 1 diabetes.

The hope of diagnosing this illness sooner is one of the motivations that people in the field are driven by. Researchers want to know, for instance, how diabetes is related to the ways in which the bugs synthesize thiamine, because a cause-and-effect relationship seems to be happening there.

What causes type 1 diabetes mellitus, or T1DM? There can be a genetic predisposition to it, but other things are going on too. Insulin is produced by beta cells in the pancreas — except when something stops this from happening. What is that something?

Possibly, interference from gastrointestinal microbes who for some reason mis-identify insulin as a dangerous foreign substance. As Paul Wilmes, Associate Professor, University of Luxembourg, puts it in an article for Nature Microbiology, “gene-environment interactions are at play such that external factors may trigger the auto-immune destruction of insulin-producing beta cells of the endocrine pancreas which results in T1DM.”

Detective agency

Like clumsy burglars, the microbiota can’t help leaving evidence, known as biomarker organism signatures. That is how we deduce what they are up to. Wilmes wrote:

Microbes are ubiquitous and their importance with respect to human health and the environment is now universally accepted. However, their actions in the wild are much less well understood.

His team first explored biological wastewater treatment systems and the ecology of lipid-accumulating bacteria therein. He explains their research protocols in great detail, and how “activities depend on many factors and cannot be inferred by conjecture based solely on information about presence/absence and/or genetic potential.”

In another publication, Wilmes clarifies the very substantial advance that has been made in understanding the microbiome:

While we had been able to determine the species composition in the gut ecosystem by conventional DNA analyses, we were in the dark as to what was actually going on there at a given point in time. To use the analogy of human society: We were able to carry out a census of different individuals without knowing what they might do as a profession. Now we know who does what and when.

This was achieved by combining several analytical techniques, to track the activities of DNA, RNA, and proteins. In what sounds like a fantastically complicated game of three-dimensional chess, the research has provided “an entirely new picture of the functional processes occurring in the gut, for example in relation to metabolism.”

The research team discovered that “only by simultaneously looking at genetic repertoire, transcripts, proteins and metabolites will we really understand the function of distinct microbial populations in their native environments.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Integrating multiple ‘omes’ from the microbiome: ‘small is beautiful’,” NatureMicrobiologyCommunity.com, 10/10/16
Source: “Sick or healthy? Bacterial metabolism tells us which — and why,” uni.lu, 10/11/16
Photo credit: olarte.ollie via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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