This post could probably be filed under “Flaky Fringe” — our category for what might be called speculative science — ideas that are not and may never be fully proven. Still, the obesity epidemic is so big and mysterious and scary, with so many consequences and ramifications, it might be worth giving even the sketchiest theory at least a moment of consideration. In tune with the summer theme, let’s talk about those little varmints known as mosquitoes, and the hypothesis that they contribute indirectly to the unhealthful heaviness of kids.
The Asian tiger mosquito, described as “a particularly vicious species,” came to America in 1985. Apparently, these annoying insects arrived (via used tire shipments from Japan) in Houston, TX, and liked their new home enough to spread to half the contiguous states.
The distinctive trait of this mosquito species is its lack of pickiness about how large a body of water it deposits its eggs in. All it needs is a bottle-cap full of rainwater, or a tiny puddle in a flowerpot. But that is not its only unpleasant personality trait. While other types of mosquitoes mainly come out at dawn and dusk, these monsters pursue their aggressive agenda all day long.
Originally, a childhood obesity connection was not even on the researchers’ radar. The five-year research project began from fear that the Asian tiger mosquito will adopt here the role it plays in other parts of the world, as a disease vector; a creator of deadly epidemics like malaria and zika.
Rutgers University scientists identified very similar neighborhoods in two different New Jersey towns, employed mosquito abatement techniques in one but not the other, and compared the results. Two years later, for the sake of fairness, the experiment was repeated in the same towns, but reversed.
It was found that adults plagued by mosquitoes tend to cut down their outdoors time by nearly three hours per week. But look what they say about the kids:
This parental-report data is even more striking for their children, aged eight to 12 years old, as time spent in outdoor play was estimated to be 63% less than it would have been if mosquitoes were not a persistent annoyance.
As mosquito targets, active people seem to be unjustly penalized, because mosquitoes are attracted by the carbon dioxide emitted during vigorous exercise. Also, the smell of dirty sweaty feet is like perfume to them. The good news to come out of this study is that mosquito abatement is a teachable skill that homeowners seem willing to learn and utilize.
Of course the community still plays a large role, with education and pesticides, but there is proof the effort actually produces a result, by providing children with more time to go outside and be active.
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