The Hungry Gene: The Science of Fat and the Future of Thin

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"In a blend of erudition and entertainment, acclaimed science journalist Ellen Ruppel Shell reveals for the first time the secret history and subtle politics behind the explosion of obesity in the United States, and the world. Shell traces the epidemic's legacy to the Ice Age, its rise through the Industrial Revolution and the early days of medicine and into modernity. She takes readers to the front lines of the struggle to come to grips with this baffling plague - from a modest laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, where superobese mice were first
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Overview

"In a blend of erudition and entertainment, acclaimed science journalist Ellen Ruppel Shell reveals for the first time the secret history and subtle politics behind the explosion of obesity in the United States, and the world. Shell traces the epidemic's legacy to the Ice Age, its rise through the Industrial Revolution and the early days of medicine and into modernity. She takes readers to the front lines of the struggle to come to grips with this baffling plague - from a modest laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, where superobese mice were first bred, to Rockefeller University in New York City to witness the cutthroat - and heartbreaking - race to clone the obese gene, to the far-flung tropical islands of Micronesia, where a horrifying outbreak of obesity among native islanders has helped scientists tease out the disorder's genetic and evolutionary roots." The Hungry Gene offers an unflinching insider's look into the radical and controversial pharmacological and surgical techniques used to combat what drug makers have dubbed the trillion-dollar disease, exposing the collusion between scientists and industry that for so long muddied the waters of obesity research and endangered untold thousands of unwitting victims. With vivid portraits of the scientists involved, Shell illustrates the breakthrough that proved conclusively that obesity is not a matter of gluttony or weak will but of vulnerable genes preyed upon by a hostile environment. Ultimately, she takes aim at the increasingly obesity-enabling culture that lies behind the crisis, telling the hard truths of what must be done to turn the tide on this frightening pandemic.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Each year, Americans spend $33 billion on diet and exercise programs, and each year we get fatter. Science journalist Ellen Ruppel Shell waded into the front lines of the fat wars to discover what advanced weapons scientists are developing to knock off our bulbous midriffs. Citing research on the incidence of obesity among the islanders of Micronesia, she shows how our own obesity-enabling culture is leading us down the road to life-threatening illnesses.
James Fallows
The Hungry Gene is a fair-minded, clear, and fascinating book about a highly emotional issue: why so many people are becoming so fat. After reading this book I have a much better sense of what science knows about the issue, what is unknown, what is a matter of individual destiny, and what is the result of food-industry strategies. An authoritative introduction to the next big public-health threat.
— National Editor, The Atlantic Monthly
Kirkus Reviews

A revealing look at research into the causes of obesity, the drastic measures being taken by some to combat fat, and the tactics of those who profit from it.

Science writer Shell (Journalism/Boston Univ.; A Child's Place, 1992) opens her account with a gripping scene of a 274-point woman undergoing gastric bypass surgery, a procedure opted for by some 40,000 Americans in the year 2000 alone. With more than 9,000,000 Americans "morbidly obese" (that is, more than 100 pounds overweight), there are strong incentives for finding the key to the fat problem. Following the search for the obesity gene, Shell vividly portrays some of the scientists involved. She shows how the drive for prestige, patents and profit affects scientific research and reports on the disturbing connections between obesity researchers and the diet, food, and pharmaceutical industries. She then demonstrates how biology and environment interact in shaping behavior (and therefore bodies) by shifting her focus to Micronesia, where Westernization of the native island people's diet has produced an astonishing increase in obesity rates, along with diabetes and other health problems. Noting that childhood obesity is most prevalent in countries where advertising on children's television is least regulated, Shell argues that public policy should encourage healthful eating, and she enumerates a few courses of action to that end. Likening "Big Food" to "Big Tobacco" as a manipulator of public opinion, she faults the industry's sponsorship of the American Dietetic Association and other influential nutrition groups. Similarly, she calls for separation of the US Department of Agriculture's food-promotion function from its nutrition-advisory function.

No quick-weight-loss ops here, but a compelling depiction of the complexity and size of the plague of obesity

Publishers Weekly
More than 1.1 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese. How and why did the world get so fat? Shell, a journalist and codirector of the Program in Science Journalism at Boston University, explores the issue from many angles including the roles of genetics, pharmaceutical companies, the food industry and social class. She charts the growth in scientific research on obesity and obesity treatments in the last decade (from stomach stapling to the notoriously dangerous drug Fen-Phen), explaining the biology of metabolism that makes it so difficult to circumvent the body's appetite. Shell also explores the lifestyle culprits behind obesity, traveling to Micronesia to document the residents of the island of Kosrae, whose average life span has plummeted in recent years due to the introduction of high-fat Western food. Though she lucidly explains the physiology of fat, Shell fills the book with chatty profiles of patients and doctors ("Rudy Leibel is a small man and trim... He has a degree in English literature, and a weakness for poetry") and her prose reads like that of a glossy magazine. There is also much in the book that may be familiar to readers; the spotlights on new obesity treatments are compelling, but it will come as no surprise that too much high-fat, calorie-dense food and too little exercise trigger obesity. On the other hand, given that Big-Tobacco-style class-action lawsuits against fast food companies are under consideration, some may find Shell's arguments for the regulation of junk-food TV advertising, among other measures, timely and provocative. (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This is not quick-fix diet book. It's a science journalist's study of why we are fatter than ever (60 percent of Americans should be skipping dessert today) and what is being done about it. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780871138569
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/1/2002
  • Pages: 294
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.19 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Trillion-Dollar Disease 1
1 A Weariness of Eating 6
2 Walking Naked 23
3 Natural Born Freaks 49
4 On the Cutting Edge 66
5 Hunger 77
6 The Clinical Exception 105
7 Collateral Damage 125
8 Spammed 151
9 The Child is Father of the Man 173
10 An Arm's Reach from Desire 191
11 The Right Choice 220
Notes 237
Acknowledgments 279
Index 285
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2002

    Myth Busters--This is THE ONE!

    The Hungry Gene is one of those books you stumble across, pick up, and then can't put down. I finished it in two sittings, then couldn't wait to run out and share what I learned with friends and family. Shell sets out to solve the medical mystery of how America--and much of the world--has gotten so fat in the last 20 years-and it's a pretty thrilling ride. The writing is masterful--Shell is a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, and has written for the New York Times Magazine and a bunch of other places--she's got a wonderful, lucid style and a gripping grasp of the facts. There's science, history, and politics here, and wonderful stories about people and places--including a tropical island in Micronesia where nearly everyone is fat! Shell expertly navigates the genetics, and exposes how the food and drug industry collude with acadmeia in their race to cure this "trillion dollar disease." Like Fast Food Nation, she got my blood boiling--and by the time I got to the final "solution" chapters I was ready to send a copy of this book to my congressman. Highly recommended.

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