Zombie Fat and Tastebud Transmission: WTP?

You know, I write a lot about science reporting here, but the emphasis there is on reporting. I have not taken a science class since high school, and I did not do well in the ones I took then. My degrees are in English and writing, and my professional experience is in writing and editing. I don’t analyze scientific research here; I analyze texts. Also, I rant. Anything else is beyond the scope of my qualifications.

Fortunately, I have an endless supply of material, because analyzing texts appears to be beyond the scope of a great many writers’ and editors’ qualifications these days.

On the plus side, I’ve been noticing some shockingly logical and panic-free reporting about fat coming from Reuters lately. I was even beginning to wonder if there’s a health editor somewhere in there who actually has a clue. And who, you know, actually takes their editorial policy to heart.

Then I read Fat-o-Matic today, wherein La di Da discusses this: Heavy moms who shed pounds still have big babies.

Overweight women are known to have a greater chance of giving birth to a larger-than-normal baby. But new research suggests that these odds stay higher even when a woman loses weight before pregnancy.

In a study of more than 146,000 women who’d each given birth twice, researchers found that those who maintained a normal body weight before each pregnancy had the lowest odds of having an abnormally large newborn.

Not surprisingly, women who were overweight or obese before each pregnancy had higher risks of delivering a large baby.

However, overweight women who lost weight before their second pregnancy did not eliminate their increased odds of having an oversized newborn.

I’m nodding, I’m nodding… No, it’s not surprising that fat women have big babies. And it’s certainly not surprising that losing weight before a pregnancy won’t affect the outcome of said pregnancy. I mean, dieting obviously doesn’t alter your genes — that’s where we’re going with this, right?

Not so much.

This, the study authors speculate, could mean that a woman’s excess pounds have a lasting effect on subsequent pregnancies, even after she’s slimmed down.

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? The weight she already lost somehow comes back to affect the size of the baby? As La di Da puts it: “Zombie fat: you can never be rid of it even if you cut its head off.”

Liss, may I please borrow the “What the Poop?” graphic? ‘Cause seriously, no one but Mama Shakes will do for this one.

Although a cat macro might do in a pinch.

This is the kind of shit that’s in the news every day. (And about every subject, of course, but fat’s what I do.) “Scientists” make asinine statements, which are reported with no follow-up questions (e.g., “Respectfully, sir, mightn’t a genetic influence on birth weight be a more plausible explanation for these results than fucking zombie fat?”), no investigation into who’s making these statements and who’s funding them, and no goddamned critical thinking about what they’ve just put into print.

Like, say, the conclusion to both this research and this article:

Ideally, the researchers conclude, women would lower their odds of having an overly large baby by preventing their own excess weight gain in the first place.

Well, shit. And me without my flux capacitor.

I guess all I can do now is add a LOT more kegels to my daily routine, since between the fat on my body now and the 110 zombie pounds I lost in the late nineties, I’m poised to have, like, a 40-lb. baby someday.

Of course, for all my finger-pointing, I’m not above making my own dumb-assed mistakes. Yesterday at Shapely Prose, I linked to an article discussing why school obesity interventions are uniformly failing. I was in a rush (on my way to — gasp! — exercise), so I just posted a round-up of fat news. Which meant I didn’t read all those articles as closely as I would if I were intending to rip them apart.

I did, however, read closely enough to ensure that none of them had little ludicrosity bombs tucked in among the logic, as is so often the case. (Well, the Slate article did, but I acknowledged that.) Articles that say things like, “Dieting damages your health and ultimately makes you fatter, so obviously, fat people need to go on permanent diets” are sadly common. Even more common are articles that say, “A new study shows fat’s not really that bad for your health… In conclusion, fat’s really, really bad for your health.” So I’m wary of linking to articles I haven’t combed over for such statements. And I combed that KC Star article pretty well.

I just didn’t notice it had a second page. I’m smart like that.

Meowser noticed, bless her heart. On page two, we have this:

“If the mother is eating Cheetos and white bread, the fetus will be born with those taste buds. If the mother is eating carrots and oatmeal, the child will be born with those taste buds,” said Robert Trevino of the Social and Health Research Center in San Antonio.

Quick, name three foods your mother loved/loves, which she almost certainly ate while pregnant, and which you cannot fucking stand. Did it take you longer than 10 seconds? I DIDN’T THINK SO. I mean, a three-year-old could swat down the logic there.

But “experts” say it, writers write it, editors publish it. Somehow, nobody in that chain questions it. So — setting aside the fat panic for a moment — women once again get the message that their children are not separate human beings with separate minds, bodies, and tastebuds; they are mere reflections of their mothers’ personal choices. Meowser pretty much sums it up when she calls such statements “anti-feminist, regressive, guiltbaggery.” And by regressive, she means, like, a good 600 years. As Jess put it in comments: “And if the mother is scared by a goat during pregnancy, her child will be born with cloven hooves.”

These things? Are why I get THAT WAY.

(Cross-posted.)

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36 Comments

Filed under 09_kate_harding

36 responses to “Zombie Fat and Tastebud Transmission: WTP?

  1. NameChanged

    So, should the fatties stop breeding? Is that what I am hearing? The only way to rid the world of unsightly fat is to stop them from having kids. We tried to stop them from having sex, but dammit, even with all the body hating we supply they still feel good enough to do it. Now the next step…sterilization.

    Give me a fucking break.

  2. Meowser

    Hey Kate, your linky to the Slate article doesn’t point to it.

    Love the cat macro, I need one of those.

    “Flux capacitor”! HAHAHAHAHAHA! You know, that article on zombie fat just made me think, “Damn, I wish Children’s Express hadn’t gone out of business.” Because you KNOW one of those kids — those kids! — would have had the temerity to ask, “So, what you’re saying is that…having a fat baby is…[cue scary Bernard Herrmann music]…GENETIC?” [DUN DUN DUUUUUUN!] Are “adult” reporters not allowed to ask that question, or not allowed to print the results if they do…or do they just not think to?

    Oh, and I could just picture the field day a CE reporter would have had with the “kids like what their moms eat in utero” thing, too.

  3. Just out of curiosity, what the fuck is an overly large baby to begin with? I mean, for fuck’s sake.

    And, please, don’t tell me this is about babies that are too big to be born vaginally because the practice of inducing babies before they get “too big” more often results in c-sections than going with the labor and delivery as dictated by one’s body, or so I understand.

  4. My oldest sister, before 4 kids: 5’2″, 95 pounds.

    My oldest sister, after 4 kids: 5’2″, 110 pounds.

    Her heaviest kid was over 14 pounds at birth. Her lightest kid was almost 11 pounds, something like 10 pounds 12 ounces.

    My next oldest sister who is taller and quite a bit heavier has 3 kids, all of them smaller at birth, though I can’t remember exact weights.

    I know, anecdotes and all that, but come on.

  5. There is also good evidence (anecdotal at the least — couldn’t find the study I was looking for) the subsequent pregnancies generally produce larger babies, especially after successful deliveries.

    My doulah friend says that it is assumed that your body “learns” what size of baby it can deliver safely, and ups the ante, because higher birth-weight generally equates to better survival rates.

    This was true in my family, with all of second pregnancies — every baby was bigger than the last.

  6. That should be “second plus”

  7. Kate Harding

    Meowser, thanks for the tip about the Slate link. Fixed.

    Interesting stuff, PortlyDyke. I’d never heard that theory. In any case, it’s a good reminder about the other issue that’s completely overlooked here — low birth weight is a hell of a lot more dangerous than high birth weight.

    Well, except, as The Rotund points out, we don’t know what standard they’re using for “abnormally large babies” here.

  8. Kate Harding

    Oh, and NameChanged, I suspect the only reason they haven’t demanded the fatties stop breeding is that it would bring them perilously close to admitting fat is genetic.

  9. Well, since my ex-wife spent her entire pregnancy with bad morning sickness, I guess that this means my daughter will only be able to taste Special K and strawberries, which was all my ex could stomach for the vast majority of the time.

    Except for, you know, my daughter’s love of Mac & Cheese and candy, and broccoli and bananas. I don’t know where that came from.

  10. Um, not to be a pain or anything … oh, what the hell, I’ll go be a pain. Obviously, there’s an *optimum* for birth weight. Too low: reduces chance of baby’s survival. Too high: reduces chance of mother’s survival (in the days before medicine, which is where humanity spent most of its time) and that reduces chances of baby’s survival. Fat is somewhat compressible, so the size of the head is the biggest limiting factor. (Well, the head is somewhat compressible too, at birth, but you know what I mean.) But even so, a 14 lb baby is pretty far out there for unassisted delivery unless the mother has a huge pelvic canal. (A small woman can have a large pelvic canal. That depends on the internal shape of the bones and isn’t obvious externally.) That’s why there aren’t too many 14 lb babies.

    The “zombie fat” thing really is hilarious. Genetics is the obvious answer, as you say. Research, by the way, (and I’ll dig around and try to find some actual refs) indicates that around 75% or 80% of body type, height, and tendency to weight gain, is based on genetics. That’s not even in dispute at this point, at least not by ordinary scientists without an axe to grind. As one of my favorite profs said, that means it should only take three more generations to reach the basic textbooks.

  11. R Hayes

    Lysenko, anyone?

  12. Kate Harding

    Quixote, you’re not a pain. Not today, anyway. 🙂 Obviously, “abnormally high birth weight” might cause a whole host of problems — particularly for the owner of the vagina through which that birth happens. Problem is, the article never tells us what “abnormally high” is.

    As one of my favorite profs said, that means it should only take three more generations to reach the basic textbooks.

    LOL. No kidding.

  13. There’s a whole lot of things wrong here. First, the taste bud transmission is silly. My son can’t stand the two foods I craved most during pregnancy (tuna and potatoes). In fact, he spit out potatoes as an infant. His theory is he just got sick of ’em because he was “force fed” so much in the womb.

    Second, high birth weight doesn’t correlate to obesity. Using my son as an example again, he was 8lb. 14oz. at birth; 90th percentile. By six months old his weight was in the 10th percentile, which is more or less where it is today; he’s one of those count-the-ribs guys.

    The primary danger of high birth weight is the higher risk of c-section. Of course, the necessary section rate has been documented, again and again and again, at 2–6%, and the actual section rate in North America is 25–35%, so I hardly think birth weight is the deciding factor. Low birth weight is a much riskier proposition and severely endangers the health of the baby. Women who are told they are gaining too much weight in pregnancy and pressured to diet or “watch their weight,” who are scolded by their doctors and told of lurid risks, are actually at greater risk because of starving themselves and their babies.

    Women who are allowed to move freely during labor can give birth to larger babies than women who are in the classic stirrups Victorian-style position. Any woman who has experimented with sex positions and noticed how her capacity changes doesn’t need experience with childbirth to understand that. Babies with shoulder dyscocia (I have no idea how to spell that—it means the shoulders are bigger than the head) can often be successfully delivered vaginally by flipping onto your hands and knees.

    Medical over-management of childbirth is one of the primary ways that the patriarchy controls women’s vaginas, breasts, and the rest of their bodies. It’s a big, big feminist issue that gets shunted aside because it seems like it only belongs in the crunchy granola crowd. You know, not one of those “real, important” issues. But it’s super important, the way that fat issues are super important, because it’s about owning our bodies and allowing them to work optimally, instead of being shamed into having them controlled and damaged.

  14. Actually, if you’re a stat-head, there’s a pretty interesting analysis here about birth-weight and infant mortality.

    The interesting thing is the curve for birth-weight is amazingly regular when applied to any given group (ex. Colorado high-altitude birth-weights are typically lower, but the curve is the same in that group).

    I don’t know how much the current stats take into account the fact that humans are getting taller/bigger in general. I was a 10 lb. 1 oz baby in 1956, delivered vaginally by a 5’2″ mom. I would think that, comparatively, that would be similar to a 5’8″ mom delivering a larger baby. I was a fat baby, a skinny kid and young adult, and grew back into my fat at peri-menopause.

  15. Well, shit. And me without my flux capacitor.

    LOL! That pretty much sums it up.

  16. There’s a whole lot of things wrong here. First, the taste bud transmission is silly.

    No, it’s plausible. You can even speculate on reasonable causal links. What you’re giving is anecdotes against it.

    However, what the quoted source gave seems like just a hypothesis. Neither you or Trevino seems to have had any hard evidence one way or another – and the burden of proof was his.

  17. Thorn

    Oh fer fuck’s sake.

    During the early part of my pregnancy, I became obsessed with eating beef. I couldn’t stand any other meat but beef. It was the strangest thing. Once the first trimester was over I went mostly back to my normal, omnivorous diet. So how ’bout those researchers explain to me why my children, at age 3, still refuse to /touch/ meat of any sort?

    Actually, I can explain it myself – they take after my husband, who was a notoriously picky eater as a child.

    Whoa! I know, crazy to mention the effect a father’s genes may have on a child when we’re busy trying to mother-guilt women into behaving as the patriarchy dictates, but it’s the weirdest thing – I’ve actually found my kids take after both their parents in all kinds of crazy ways.

    Which goes for the newborn weight thing, too. All other things being equal (i.e. kids born at term as opposed to early), most of the kids I know of who were big at birth have at least one big parent – big meaning tall or big-boned (fer real, not euphemistically speaking here) or heavy or any combination of those.

    It’ll be a great day for science reporting when the MSM discovers genes, I swear.

  18. Alix

    I know, crazy to mention the effect a father’s genes may have on a child when we’re busy trying to mother-guilt women into behaving as the patriarchy dictates

    This has nothing to do with the post (great post, by the way; I really look forward to them), but your line here reminds me of something that happened regularly when my sister was an infant/toddler. My mother often took us all out and about with her. She’s blond, blue-eyed, and heavyset. My brother and I are (or were) blond, green-eyed, and heavyset. My sister, on the other hand, was dark-haired and -eyed, and thin.

    People would come up to us and ask who my sister’s father was, with the clear implication that she had a different father. (And they were nasty about it, too.) Same father as the older two, Mom’d reply, and people wouldn’t believe her.

    Funny, no one ever bothered her when Dad was nearby – I guess it’s hard to pick on a woman when her dark-haired, dark-eyed, not-exactly-skinny-but-that-kind-of-shape husband is standing right there for comparison.

    Sorry for the real random tangent, but Thorn’s line reminded me.

  19. Kate Harding

    It’ll be a great day for science reporting when the MSM discovers genes, I swear.

    LOL!

  20. Pingback: Zombie Fat and Tastebud Transmission: WTP? « Shapely Prose

  21. LS

    LOL, Alix! I used to get the same sort of thing as a kid, but it didn’t matter which parent I was out with. Both of mine are dark haired, dark eyed. I’m light eyed and light(er) haired – it darkened as I got older to its current copper-brown, but as a small child I had very red hair, just this side of orange. I can’t tell you how many times I got, “Oh, I bet your daddy/mommy is a redhead!” like they were all clever and cute to have ‘figured it out.’ And then they’d think I was lying. *eyeroll* Seriously, did everyone sleep through basic genetics in science? We did dominant/recessive in 7th grade, and again in 9th!

  22. Babies that are still inside their mother don’t ingest food through their mouths, where their tastebuds live. They ingest nutrition through the umbilical cord, from the blood that pumps through their mothers bodies. The tastebud theory sounds completely wack to me.

    Larger than normal (whatever normal is) babies are also a symptom of gestational diabetes.

    FWIW: I lost 60 lbs when I was pregnant with Sio because I had hyperemesis. If I kept down anything during my pregnancy, I cannot remember what it was. And yet she was born a perfectly healthy 7 lbs. 9 oz, 21″ long.

    With Monkey, I had little appetite, but I know I ate a lot of watermelon (I remember crying in the produce section one day because they didn’t have any watermelon) and turkey sandwiches. She was born 6 lbs 13 oz, 18″ long, and lost a pound during her first week….and it took her 2 months to gain that one pound back, even though she was nursing several hours a day.

    LOL, Alix! I used to get the same sort of thing as a kid, but it didn’t matter which parent I was out with. Both of mine are dark haired, dark eyed. I’m light eyed and light(er) haired – it darkened as I got older to its current copper-brown, but as a small child I had very red hair, just this side of orange. I can’t tell you how many times I got, “Oh, I bet your daddy/mommy is a redhead!” like they were all clever and cute to have ‘figured it out.’ And then they’d think I was lying. *eyeroll* Seriously, did everyone sleep through basic genetics in science? We did dominant/recessive in 7th grade, and again in 9th!

    My mom is a redhead, my father has black hair. My older sister had very dark brown hair and I had bright orange hair, and we always got asked how was it possible that we had different color hair. Out of 5 kids, 3 of us are redheads.

  23. Babies that are still inside their mother don’t ingest food through their mouths, where their tastebuds live. They ingest nutrition through the umbilical cord, from the blood that pumps through their mothers bodies. The tastebud theory sounds completely wack to me.

    Mmm-hmm. Yet pregnant women still get cravings for particular foods based on what their body thinks it needs, despite the disconnect between those elements which are lacking and the actual taste and smell of the food in question.

    Hell, for all I know there may be a negative correlation – stick too much curry in your blood and your kid may avoid it in the future.

    I still say it sounds plausible but unsupported and unproven.

  24. Thorn

    Actually, the more common theory about chidren’s “taste buds” (seriously, where are the “beef” taste buds located on the tongue? are they between the salty and the sweet, or next to the sour? I always forget), is that children develop a taste for the foods their mother likes to eat after birth, by drinking her breastmilk. The idea being that if Mom eats curry, then her breastmilk will carry some of those flavors shortly thereafter, and the next day her breastmilk might carry the flavors of the chicken salad sandwich she had for lunch that day. That kinda thing.

    I don’t know how proven the theory is – probably not much, in all honesty – but it makes a helluva lot more sense to me than children sprouting “Cheeto tastebuds” in utero.

  25. They could probably do a study using adopted children who have been adopted into a different eating culture. How many Chinese babies have been adopted by Americans?

  26. I still say it sounds plausible but unsupported and unproven.

    That’s totally fair, Phonecian. But again, when what I’m really criticizing here is the reporting that filters down to laypeople, it’s not okay to present unsupported and unproven theories as things that require action by average people — because OMG, an expert said so.

    I’ve just been arguing the same thing on my blog with someone (a biologist, no less) who thinks the zombie fat hypothesis is plausible. Again, sure, it’s plausible — if the standard we’re using is “not impossible.” Fat and estrogen have a complicated relationship; estrogen affects lady parts; there could be something in there.

    But when this stuff makes its way to millions of lay readers, and the upshot is, “Don’t let yourself get fat,” and “Don’t eat crap while pregnant,” all it does is promote already rampant anxiety and shame about food, without really telling us anything new or useful about how our bodies operate. We have heard these messages before, packaged in a thousand different ways. So I don’t quite see the point in reporting on unsupported, unproven hypotheses just to make the point once again that fat is teh devil and women are damaging their babies by actually eating while pregnant.

    (Note: all of that stuff was general. I don’t assume you and I are fighting here.)

  27. Phoenician, not Phonecian, duh. What was I saying about my editorial background?

  28. Eva Whitley

    A data point: I craved raw food while I was pregnant with my first child. And now he won’t eat raw anything. Ditto all the red Delicious apples I ate while carrying my first born.

    My mother, fat through all of her adulthood, gave birth to 5 kids. The two smallest were one of my older sisters and I. She came in at 6 lbs. 1 oz. and I was just an ounce over that.

    The largest was my brother who was 7 lbs.

    Maybe it’s the fat cell’s way of fighting back. In that case, maybe they’d be better off keeping them sedated with food.

  29. (Note: all of that stuff was general. I don’t assume you and I are fighting here.)

    Sez you!

    Hey, wasn’t there a study a while back which showed some correlation between periods of starvation and the birthweight of grandchildren?

  30. kate217

    Phoenician, I believe that it was the weights of children. I’m only taking a short break, so I don’t have time to research it, but IIRC, the study dealt with norther Europe’s “starvation winter.”

  31. Nemohee

    Kate, you have helped to raise my lowered self-esteem by helping me, a big girl, wade through the bullshit that the “health” officials spit out on a daily basis. Your wonderful writing and quick wit also put a smile on my face. I have recommended your posts to all of my big girl friends!

  32. Aw, Nemohee, I love hearing that! Thanks!

  33. Gabi

    With all these genetics gone odd stories, I’ll ad my own. Sicilian mother; British Isles mix of a father. My youngest sister looks just like my mom (darker skin and hair), and my other sister and I are fair like my father. Ironically, the same idiots in the grocery store would look at my two sisters (who obviously have opposite coloring and were two years apart) BUT both had super curly hair as small children and ask if they were identical twins. People are dumb.

  34. women would lower their odds of having an overly large baby by preventing their own excess weight gain in the first place.

    Of course, it’s so simple! Just pick the right parents before you go and get yourself conceived. Anyone who can’t be bothered to do that is a lazy slob.

  35. Phoenician, I believe that it was the weights of children. I

    No, I was thinking of these stories. Naturally enough, I got the details wrong – it was about health, not weight per se.

    All I know about weight loss is that I’ve lost a hell of a lot since Feb. by doing Weightwatchers and exercising regularly. Of course, I started off massively obese and eating crap so any theory about a “natural level” of weight isn’t really relevant yet. It will be interesting to see if I maintain a good weight for five years though.

    One thing I’m appalled by is the number of attractive healthy young women who attend who seem to think they’re fat. Ladies, you’re gorgeous – I’m fat.

  36. Pingback: Arthur D. Hlavaty

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