Fat: Fighting the Obesity Epidemic / Edition 1

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When the leptin gene was discovered in 1994, news articles predicted that there might soon be an easy, pharmaceutical solution to the growing public health crisis of obesity. Yet this scientific breakthrough merely proved once again how difficult the fight against fat really is. Despite the many appetite-suppressants, diet pills, and weight-loss programs available today, approximately 30 percent of Americans are obese. And that number is expanding rapidly.
Fat is the engaging story of the scientific quest to understand and control body weight. Covering the entire twentieth century, Robert Pool chronicles the evolving blame-game for fat—from being a result of undisciplined behavior to subconscious conflicts, physiological disease, and environmental excess. Readers in today's weight-conscious society will be surprised to learn that being overweight was actually encouraged by doctors and popular health magazines up until the 1930s, when the health risks associated with being overweight were publicly recognized. Thus began decades of research and experiments that subsequently explained appetite, metabolism, and the development of fat cells. Pool effectively reanimates the colorful characters, curious experiments, brilliant insights and wrong turns that led to contemporary scientific understanding of America's epidemic. While he acknowledges the advances in the pharmacological fight against flab, he underscores that the real problem of obesity is not losing the weight but keeping it off. Drugs offer a quick fix, but they aren't the ultimate answer. American society must remedy the unhealthy daily environments of its cities and towns, and those who have struggled with their weight and have experienced the "yo-yo" cycle of dieting must understand the underlying science of body weight that makes their struggle more than a question of willpower.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Robert Pool weaves a wonderful and balanced tale, linking the important 20th-century discoveries that led to the idea of the set point and our current understanding of the regulation of weight. Pool adds rich new details to the epidemiologic, psychological, and molecular discoveries behind one of the most interesting stories of modern biologic science. This book is a must for anyone interested in the history of science, public health, or the related epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus. This engaging book tells a fascinating story and asks how we, as an advanced society, can fight the obesity epidemic." —Steven B. Heymsfield, M.D., The New England Journal of Medicine

"In painstaking detail, Pool expalins the scientific and cultural forces behind a society that simultaneously encourages and stigmatizes obesity, and how conventional wisdom about weight became conventional wisdom."—Curtis Sittenfeld, The Washington Post

Curtis Sittenfeld
To his (Pool's) credit, he never forgets that, whatever its roots, obesity does not feel like a scientific or environmental problem to those who struggle with it; it feels like a personal problem. Pool's research has not made him optimistic about the prospects for people like P.J. Nelson, but it has made him compassionate.
Washington Post Book World
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a well-paced narrative, science writer Pool (Beyond Engineering; Eve's Rib) traces the history of obesity in Western society and the ups and downs of medical science's ability to determine what causes some people to gain a considerable amount of weight and why it is so difficult to lose--and keep off--those extra pounds. For the longest time, both doctors and ordinary people have believed that losing and maintaining a lower weight were matters of personal responsibility--a very American perspective, the author avers. Certainly, if people change their eating habits and lifestyle, and are motivated, they can lose weight, but this formula of mind over matter is not universally successful. Moreover, despite recent breakthroughs in medical research, more and more Americans continue to become obese. The solution, argues the author, is that American doctors and nonprofessionals must change their beliefs about obesity: we must regard it not as an individual problem to be solved through willpower, but as a disease and, more specifically, a social disease "caused by a sick environment"--the fast-food and snacking environment--"to which some of us are more susceptible than others." Our bodies, which have changed little since our hunter-gatherer days, have not adapted well to our advanced, convenient, more sedentary Western lifestyle. Pool's aim here is to alert people to what he calls a rising epidemic. His arguments are cogent and convincing, but the reader may be disappointed to learn that Pool doesn't offer any suggestions to how we may be able to promote such widespread change. (Jan.) Forecast: A recent series of articles on obesity in the New York Times indicates the hunger (so to speak) that exists for information on weight loss; still, this book is mostly for the minority of readers who are looking not just for advice on how to lose weight but for a broader reflection on the problem. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Why is obesity increasing in our society? Why is it so difficult to lose weight? Numerous studies have shown the lengths to which our bodies will go to maintain a particular set weight. The ease of the Western lifestyle has only contributed to this problem. With a minimum of scientific and medical jargon, science journalist Pool (Dialogue and Interpretation of Illness) summarizes years of obesity research to illustrate the genetic, physiological, and environmental factors that cause us to gain weight. While there are some promising new treatments in the research stages, the author enforces the idea that a change in attitude and environment will be necessary to conquer this disease. This fascinating investigative journey into the history of obesity will go a long way toward removing the stigma attached to being overweight and will increase our understanding of the complex issues that contribute to the obesity epidemic. Highly recommended for all libraries.--Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195118537
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 5.80 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Pool is a freelance science writer who has worked on the staff of Science and Nature. He is also the author of Beyond Engineering: How Society Shapes Technology and Eve's Rib: Searching for the Biological Roots of Sex Differences. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2005

    Great book covering all aspects of obesity and its causes

    Millions of dollars are spent every year on diet books, personal trainers, weight loss pills and gym memberships so what is stopping people from shedding the extra pounds? America is the most highly developed country in the world so why can a reliable weight loss method not be devised? These are the sorts of questions that baffled and frustrated scientific journalist and author Robert Pool to the point that he was determined to find answers. Years of research and hundreds of interviews later, Pool would publish his remarkable findings in a topical, research-based book titled Fat: Fighting the Obesity Epidemic. Pool uses fascinating research stories as he unravels the history of obesity research. He discusses the environmental, psychological and biological factors that must be taken into consideration when searching for the cause of weight problems. Pool concludes that while genetics, heredity and other factors play a significant role in body size, the unhealthy environment that Americans are forced to face daily is the culprit responsible for the current ¿obesity epidemic.¿ Although, professionals such as personal trainers, medical professionals and dieticians are probably the most likely to read and benefit from Fat, anyone with an interest in the history and science behind the obesity epidemic would enjoy this book. Pool uses minimal amount of scientific terms as he states personal stories, historical facts and medical findings to prove his theories on the obesity epidemic. Fat offers a great alternative to the current fad diet books that do not even touch on the science or underlying causes of weight problems. It is hard to find un-biased books dealing with weight loss which makes Fat very different from other books of the same topic. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2001

    Scientific Summary of Much of What We Know About Obesity

    This book is not a diet book, nor a guide to losing weight. It is a serious popular summary of the scientific studies into how people become overweight. On the other hand, if you are overweight and want to be lighter or want to learn more about the causes of obesity, this book is very well done and will help you overcome important misconceptions. There is more that we do not know about obesity than we do know. Despite this, obesity is a rapidly increasing problem in the United States. From 1991 to 1998, the U.S. population that is obese (more than 30 percent overweight) grew from 12 percent to 18 percent. Studies suggest that this trend, as alarming as it is, hides the severity of the problem, because many people understate their weight in surveys. Weight is affected by environment, genes, and behavior. Little is known about how the three interact with each other. The author argues that the current growth in obesity mainly relates to an environment that is getting less and less healthy rather than some sudden negative change in genetic make-up or intentional behavior. He also does not suggest any specific solutions. Many people do not understand that the process of losing weight often causes the body to burn fewer calories. So you have to feel like you are literally starving to death to lose weight past a certain point. That point is your 'set point' and we each have a different one. For many overweight people, that set point is well above the weight that the physicians encourage. So many overweight people aren't 'indulging' themselves more than thinner people, they just have a different body chemistry. So remove those value judgments when you see overweight people. Give them a hug instead. The other flaw in thinking about weight is that that being overweight is the cause of many diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Recent research suggests that the connections are not always linear. Being overweight is sometimes a symptom of some other problem, rather than the cause of the disease. The main weakness of this book is that it does not include the work described in Sugarbusters! and Live Right for Your Type that suggest a role for the mix of foods you eat as affecting your weight level. Mix of foods is referenced, but mostly in the context of behavioral treatments for overweight that emphasize creating aversions for certain foods. Hearing about how scientists have worked on this problem makes me feel pretty discouraged. My suggestion is that only obese scientists work on overcoming obesity. At least they will have a bodily experience as a reference point. In picture after picture in this book, the pioneers of obesity research are displayed as extremely trim individuals. After you read this book, I suggest you think about the problems of discrimination that obese people face. How can those barriers be lowered? How can the emotional pain of being obese be reduced? I suspect that the harm in these two areas is even greater than the health harm associated with obesity. That's the real epidemic! Live comfortably with your body! Donald Mitchell, co-author of The Irresistible Growth Enterprise and The 2,000 Percent Solution

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