September 17, 2019 11:41 AM

“Fat Shaming” Won’t Solve Obesity. Science Might.

A round up of 15 research papers and articles from Michigan Medicine proving why the treatment for obesity can’t adopt a “one size fits all” approach.

icons of people

Science is with James Corden. Fat shaming shouldn’t make a comeback, and it won’t solve the nation’s obesity epidemic.

Through countless published scientific papers, research has continually exposed the complexity of obesity and being overweight, which affects more than 1.9 billion people worldwide. That research has led experts to conclude that potential treatment options must go further than simply prescribing diet and exercise as a cure.

For years, scientists at Michigan Medicine have researched the problem and have contributed to the mounting evidence of factors that go beyond an individual’s control, such as poverty, health care access, education, genetics, hormones, and chronic illnesses, which can all play roles in the chronic condition’s development and existence.

More research and clinical trials are needed to find answers, but while we wait, researchers say body shaming, which has been proven to cause depression and increase the risk of suicide, should never be one of them. 

Below, we rounded up the latest research and articles on obesity from our faculty who are tirelessly working with others across the country to find better solutions to address the issue of obesity and help those trying to overcome it.


scale and food

1. Low-Income Communities More likely to Face Childhood Obesity

Using a model created from data on over 111,000 students, Michigan Medicine showed that the higher poverty rates are in an area, the higher the rate of obesity is among children living there. Although obesity rates were higher among African-American and Hispanic kids, the relationship disappeared when factoring in family income, according to the study published in Childhood Obesity.

Authors concluded that access to fewer resources like recreational programs, parks and full service grocery stores appears to have a greater impact on the nation’s childhood obesity rate than race. Read more.



2. Weighing the Facts: The Tough Truth About Weight Loss

Here’s a sobering statistic: roughly 90% of people who lose a lot of weight eventually regain just about all of it.

Why is it so hard to keep the weight off? The reason is both simple and complex. Gaining a significant amount of weight doesn’t just puff up our fat cells; it changes our biology. Our bodies act as if that higher weight is our normal weight, defending it like a mother embracing her newborn. Read more.


food plate

3. Resisting Food Temptation Isn’t Futile, but Obesity May Make It Harder

Food-related cues come at us from morning until night, and some of us seem powerless to resist temptation. Others, however, can ignore them — or at least stop themselves from responding.

A study in rats, published in Neuropharmacology, may help explain these differences in people — and how they relate to the obesity epidemic that affects one-third of all people worldwide.  Read more.


Food brain

4. Clues to Obesity’s Roots Found in Brain’s Quality Control Process

Deep in the middle of our heads lies a tiny nub of nerve cells that play a key role in how hungry we feel, how much we eat, and how much weight we gain. Around the clock, they produce several hormones that help regulate these crucial functions.

A discovery made by a team at Michigan Medicine sheds light on how they get produced — and more importantly, what can go wrong and raise the risk of overeating and obesity.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the findings could pave the way for new approaches in treating forms of obesity, especially those with genetic roots. Read more.



5. Discovery in Mice Could Remove Roadblock to More Insulin Production

By the time someone gets diagnosed with diabetes — in either of its forms — the insulin-making factory inside their body has ground to a halt, or at least a slow crawl. And in people with obesity, insulin supply often struggles to keep up with demand — especially if the person eats a typical Western diet.

But a recent discovery, published in Nature Immunology, could provide new options for getting those factories going again. It could offer new pathways to ramping up insulin supply to get metabolism back on track in people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Read more.



6. Brain Protein That Helps Regulate Body Fat May Guide Anti-Obesity Drugs

In a Science Advances study, scientists at Michigan Medicine and Vanderbilt University identified the function of a protein called melanocortin 3 receptor (or MC3R) that had puzzled metabolism researchers for more than two decades.

The function of this protein, previously not well understood, may have implications both for treating obesity and understanding weight gain during pregnancy and menopause and opens new doors for developing anti-obesity drugs. Read more.


Gut bacteria

7. Does Gut Bacteria Lead to Obesity?

In recent years, researchers studying the microscopic creatures inside our bodies reported possible links between obesity and out-of-balance microbes. But Michigan Medicine research, which pooled data from many of those past studies, disputes the idea that extra pounds may stem from an imbalance in the microbiome.

The study, published in mBio, finds no clear common characteristic of the microbiomes in the digestive systems of people who are obese compared to those of a healthy weight.

But to researchers at Michigan Medicine, this news is exciting. It means that there’s much more complexity to discover on the relationship between our microbiome and our health. Read more.


Three moms to be

8. Will Weight Loss Before Conception Make Mom and Baby Healthier?

A woman’s overall health before conception can impact her pregnancy and the health of her fetus.

Amy Rothberg, M.D., Ph.D., an endocrinologist at Michigan Medicine, says infants of overweight mothers carry a lifetime risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease and evidence proposes that obesity starts at the earliest stages of human development.

A clinic trial, run by Michigan Medicine, hopes to determine how weight loss prior to pregnancy affects maternal and fetal health. Read more.


Boy sleeping

9. Chronic Short Sleep Associated with Adolescent Obesity

Older children and teenagers may have a higher risk of obesity if they consistently don’t get enough sleep, according to Michigan Medicine research.

The study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, found the highest levels of obesity in adolescents who weren’t sleeping enough night after night. Read more.


Mom with new born

10. For Adolescents, Pre-Pregnancy BMI Directly Linked to Excess Pregnancy Weight Gain

Weight gain during pregnancy is an issue every pregnant woman faces. Research shows that pre-pregnancy body mass index, or BMI, and ethnicity might signal a likelihood for obesity later in life. 

Published in PLOS ONE, researchers analyzed medical records of more than 1,000 women who gave birth between the ages of 15 and 24, and concluded that physicians caring for adolescent women should use BMI before pregnancy as a strong predictor of whether a young mother will gain too much weight during pregnancy, a risk factor for later obesity.  Read more.


Girl looking at donuts

11. Moms of Obese Children Use Different Words to Restrict Eating

In a small study, researchers found caregivers of children with obesity may be more likely to use direct statements to restrict a child’s eating.

Researchers at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital videotaped 237 mothers and children who were seated alone in a room and presented with different foods, including chocolate cupcakes. Direct commands like “only eat one” were more often used among mothers of children with obesity while eating dessert, according to the findings published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Meanwhile, mothers of children who weren’t overweight were more likely to guide children with indirect comments such as, “That’s too much. You haven’t had dinner.” Read more.


Shirt with donuts on it.

12. Could Desserts and Fast Food on Kid’s Clothing Influence Future Diets?

Frosted cupcakes, sprinkled donuts and chocolate chip cookies — all on the list of foods that pediatrician Megan Pesch, M.D., suddenly found difficult to avoid. Not at the bakery or grocery store, but on children’s clothing.

The developmental behavioral pediatrician, who studies childhood eating behaviors, wondered how prominent the trend was and whether it had implications for children’s eating habits.

Her analysis, published in the journal Eating Behaviors, looked at 3,870 clothing items from four major children’s retailers. One in 11 apparel items included food graphics and two-thirds of those foods were unhealthy, while others had healthier options, such as fruit. A third of the items featured food graphics “having fun,” such as a pizza slice riding a skateboard. Read more.


Brain scan

13. Full, but Still Feasting: How the Urge to Eat Overpowers the Signal to Stop

Almost everyone knows the feeling. You’re at a restaurant or a holiday meal, and your stomach is telling you it’s full, but yet you keep going.

A Michigan Medicine study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, explored the mystery of why this happens at the most basic level in the brain in animals. It showed that two tiny clusters of cells battle for control of feeding behavior — and the one that drives eating overpowers the one that says to stop. Read more.



14. Fitness Vs. Fatness: Which Matters Most?

There is a longstanding debate in the research community about the importance of fitness versus fatness in health. Are exercise and improving fitness more important than eating well and maintaining a healthy weight?

For people who are obese, losing weight might be more important to their overall health than focusing on fitness. In fact, evidence shows that exercise alone isn’t an effective way to lose weight. Rather, effective weight loss is mostly about what you eat, though it should also include exercise.

The message that physical activity is more important than managing weight is not only unhelpful, but also not true. Read more.


Water drop

15. Study: Water Intake Overlooked in Obese Individuals

People who are obese and have a higher BMI are more likely to be inadequately hydrated and vice versa, suggests research from Michigan Medicine published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Although the correlation requires further probing, the lead author noted that hydration has lately been considered a cornerstone of a weight-loss diet. Read more.