Canadian scientists prove link between the gene that causes obesity and rates of depression
The old saying ‘fat people are more jolly’ apparently has more than a grain of truth to it. It turns out there’s good reason for the stereotypical “happy” fat person immortalised in characters like Santa Claus – it’s genetic.
Scientists from McMaster University in Canada have found that the so-called ‘fat gene’ FTO is also responsible for people’s sense of wellbeing or happiness.
FTO is a genetic contributor to obesity but it also reduces the risk of depression by up to eight per cent.
The scientists studied 17, 200 DNA samples in a study investigating the psychiatric health of a group of people from over 21 nations. The finding that FTO lead to a lower rate of depression was backed up by three further international studies.
While eight per cent might not sound significant, Professor David Meyre, of McMaster University in Canada, said that it was the “first evidence that an FTO obesity gene is associated with protection against major depression, independent of its effect on body mass index.”
He said the discovery won’t change the day-to-day treatment of patients, it identifies a “a novel molecular basis for depression.”
Then again, other studies show fat people prone to being depressed about being, er, fat.
So what does the comfortably corpulent Wellthisiswhatithink think of all this debate?
Well, written as this blog is by a fellow who once walked into an Indian tailor’s shop in Durban, South Africa, to be greeted with the immortal words, “Ah, yes, Sir, welcome. I think we can do something in “Portly Short” for you!” – I was a nervous 14 year old at the time – it sure interests me.
In my experience, fat people, I attest, are often more cheerful than most. Especially when they visit Asia, where a big belly is associated with happiness, and also with wealth. (Logic: you can afford to buy too much food, must be rich.)
When I was doing business in China attractive young women wanted to rub my belly, giggling inanely, whiling away the gaps between stops on the Shenzhen subway, much to the obvious annoyance of their boyfriends and the amusement of everyone else.
But you know what? I don’t think cheerfulness in overweight people is primarily genetic, although I notice that even the study that claims they are more prone to depression nevertheless isolates that they abuse alcohol and drugs less, which are normally symptoms of depression, so who really knows?
I just think it’s an emotional defence mechanism against being marginalised and sidelined by skinny (read: beautiful) people. And any fat, cheery person can tell you that when one is overweight – and therefore not our culture’s dominant paradigm of what is considered “attractive” – then you soon discover being chirpy and fun to be around is sexy too. Other people respond to it. So a happy nature helps fat people contribute to the gene pool … er, if you take my meaning. As I once saw on a t-shirt “A Sense Of Humour. Helping fat people get laid for a thousand years.”
But you know what? Shopping for clothes? Meh. Not so much. I never understand, in societies where the majority of people are now apparently overweight or obese, why most clothing stores sell clothes for anorexic beanpoles. I just shouldn’t have to high-tail it to a couple of stores in town hidden down side alleys to buy clothes that both fit me and look sexy and stylish. The Big Guy section of my local Target comprises three small racks out of a store the size of Texas. And the best designs for skinny folk on the other racks aren’t duplicated in the Big Guy section. What’s with that? Can’t retailers read demographic data?
(Answer, no they can’t. Most retailers are drones. They buy product based on the profit margin they will make, how much co-op ad spend they can screw out of the supplier, and regardless of the needs or wishes of their customers. Don’t get me started.)
Anyhow: the only thing that concerns me really (I have long got pretty used to looking a bit like the side of a bus) are the health implications of obesity. If only we could focus on positive ways to impact that issue, without making overweight people feel guilty or shitty about themselves. Because recent research also shows that one can, in fact, be overweight and fit at the same time, although perhaps not to the extent that the world’s skinny people are fit. But being overweight need not be a death sentence. Well, at least, not an immediate one. And if we could encourage overweight people to be a bit fitter, than we would reduce the cost and impact of degenerative chronic diseases significantly.
Heigh ho. For all that I try and maintain some sort of level of physical fitness, and a determinedly optimist outlook, I am always nagged at by the health professional who once told me, “Look, there are fat people, and there are old people. There are just no old fat people.”
So any Wellthisiswhatithink reader who knows of an old fat person, please forward a photo immediately. A bottle of champagne (dry, lower calorie) and a sticky bun with reduced-fat cream for the most reassuring message.