We’re Supposed To Worry that Dust Makes Us Fat?

You Forgot Your BullshitToday we have a “study” that illustrates two of the truly ridiculous things that often happen in the “science” of weight and health.

1. You can get funding and published for literally any anti-fat study you can imagine 

In the tiny study, cells from mice were exposed to dust samples from 11 (not a typo, just eleven) homes to see if they would be linked with metabolic disruption including triglyceride and preadipocyte accumulation.

2. The most scientifically illiterate journalists will be allowed to write about it

A piece about this by Henry Bodkin (who, on the same day, had a piece published titled “Wild boar pictured roaming streets of city centre at night”) appeared in The Telegraph. The headline was ‘Household Dust Makes People Fat, Groundbreaking Research Indicates.” Seriously Hank (can I call you Hank?) WT Actual F are you doing?

Even if we assume that Henry isn’t responsible for the headline, surely he’s responsible for the actual reporting.  His piece didn’t bother to link to the actual study nor was it clear about the study’s limitations.  But it began, ambitiously, People should keep their homes spotless if they want to avoid putting on weight, new research suggests.”

That delayed this piece being written by a few hours due to the concussion I experienced from banging my head against my desk.

What the researchers actually said was “Our results delineate a novel potential health threat and identify putative causative SVOCs that are likely contributing to this activity.”

The words “potential,” “putative,” and “likely,” are important here as they all essentially mean “maybe” and do not remotely translate to the ability to suggest – at with with any kind of journalistic integrity – that if your house has dust you’ll become fat.

Now parents (and, let’s be honest, predominantly moms in our misogynist society) of fat kids will be blamed and, perhaps more tragically, blame themselves for not keeping their houses dust-free enough. We need to shut this bullshit down.

Today I’ve seen no less than four articles that included some version of “Is [XYZ] Making Us Fat?”  If an article asks that, I immediately ask myself “is this article a fatphobic (and quite likely ableist, classist etc.) piece of shit?” Hint: the answer is probably yes.

People are lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and  I would personally prefer that we affirm the diversity of body sizes and spend research money figuring out how to support the health and happiness of people of all sizes, rather than trying to prevent or eradicate people of a certain size.

If you’re sick of researchers getting funding to figure out how to eradicate fat people, join us at the Fat Activism Conference!

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23 thoughts on “We’re Supposed To Worry that Dust Makes Us Fat?

  1. New Friend,
    How about the new studies that are indicating that SMELLING food can lead to weight gain as well. Supposedly… legit (Here’s the friggin link to the article on LiveStrong. LIVESTRONG.COM Isn’t that a pretty reputable site?!) http://www.livestrong.com/article/13429432-just-smelling-food-can-make-you-gain-weight/
    Like I don’t EVEN know what to say anymore. I’m about to google: “Can just breathing cause cancer?”, and then I think well actually YEA given the right circumstances of toxic shit in the air. I feel just doomed altogether. DOOMED. Oh dear Jesus. I’m gonna need a Xanax.

      1. They are saying in Canada now that Roundup causes celiac, never mind that the ancient Greeks invented the word celiac and described it.

    1. Of course breathing gives you cancer… because every person who have ever gotten cancer has breathed… also of course smelling food makes you fat… because every fat person presumably smells food, and in their minds we eat more food than everyone else so if we are eating more we must be smelling more.

    2. From the article: “the smell determines whether your body stores fat or burns it off.”

      They then say that they took three groups of mice (again, not humans), and tested them. They had a group of mice with really good noses that could smell very well, a control group of average-olfactory mice, and a control group that had their sense of smell suppressed. They were all fed the same diet (note – it did not say if that diet was measured, as in “did one group eat more of the same food than the others?”), and the ones who had the best sense of smell gained the most weight, while the ones who had the worst sense of smell gained he least (or none).

      They immediately jumped from there to the idea that smelling food determines whether it will be stored as fat or burned off. Not “does it smell appetizing? Does it make me want to eat more?” versus “Does it stink so much I don’t want to touch it, let alone put it in my mouth?” or “I’ll eat it, because I need energy and nutrients, but I’ll only eat the bare minimum to survive, because BLECH!” No, they do not ask these questions. Do they ask if there is any connection between the sense of smell, itself, and the metabolism? For example, do those with suppressed sense of smell also suffer from blockages or anything that would interfere with digestion? Do those with enhanced sense of smell suffer from blockages or anything that would interfere with digestion? Is an enhanced sense of smell a symptom of any sort of syndrome that would cause a body to fail to absorb all the nutrients present, thus requiring that it consume more food, in order to fill its need for nutrients?


      They just went straight to “if you can smell it, it will make you fat.”

      Are these “scientific studies” being run by elementary students? Because I recall learning the scientific method in middle school.

  2. Have you read the original study? Is it behind a paywall? I haven’t yet but am planning on pulling it and putting it side-by-side with Hank’s “article” for the research unit in my Intro to Psych class this fall. I gather, reading between the lines, that the original researchers never said any such thing (I’m going largely on the basis that Hank didn’t quote them as saying any such thing) but that the point of the study was that endocrine disrupters get into our systems via infinitesimally small amounts of dust–far less dust than is ordinarily found in the average clean household. Still and all, I anticipate that the original study, too, will be a head-banger if it focuses on weight gain. As if that were the most important issue with the cumulative effects of pesticides, flame retardants, and plasticizers in our homes. And thank you for pointing out what I’d missed: Hank isn’t even a science writer! Argle-bargle.

    1. Saw ona UK TV show recently where some vets had discovered diabetes in cats which didn’t respond to normal treatment. Turned out the cats all had a brain tumour in the region that controls insulin, and that type of tumour has been linked to things like flame retardants. They figured because cats lie on things like sofas and carpets and lick themselves, they ingest more of the stuff and thus are more prone to these brain tumours. What implications might the stuff we treat our furniture with have on our own health, let alone that of our pets?

      Endocrine disruptors in our home is a serious worry – sure, making us put on weight is one thing (if I want to put on weight, I’d much rather be in control of it myself), but hello, cancer!!! Other things which happen when our hormones are messed with!!! Let’s put the emphasis where it needs to be, and it sure as hell isn’t weight-based. (Not your reply, but the articles reporting on the study.)

      1. infertility is the big one that comes to my mind with endocrine disruptors. We’ve all been using all the plastic with the BPA or whatever and the Teflon cookware and all that and later we find out it can cause infertility. Now I’ve made my peace being child free, but I suffered heartbreak for years trying to have children.

        1. Yup. I’ve never wanted kids anyway, but I know those who do and can’t – like you – and if that’s because of their environment, that’s terrible. I mean if it’s your body itself, for medical reasons, that sucks but at least it’s no one’s fault. And of course, in the longer term for the entire species to turn infertile doesn’t really work if we want humans to survive.

          1. Yeah, like I said I’ve made my peace with it now, but it does worry me for the future for everybody. I have moved to using an iron pan instead of a teflon pan for most of my skillet cooking, except that I have a griddle I cook eggs on when I’m cooking breakfast because I can cook so many eggs at once, and that’s teflon. And I had a glass pot I was using for soup and stuff instead of teflon (and there’s problems with using aluminum and stainless steel cookware too) but then my cat knocked it off the stove and it shattered. And those things are expensive, so I’m back to the teflon and metal pots I still have for cooking stuff in pots. I know they’ve tried to move much of our plastics to BPA free, but the problem is we’ve already been exposed to years and years of it. I’m 31 now. Now you’re BPA free. That’s fine, and maybe the next generation, the children growing up now will be better off if their parents are using BPA free plastic and pots and pans that aren’t teflon, but it’s hard to do that. And what about my stepson who’s 19, and been exposed to 19 years of it?

            1. Steel = iron. But yes, I agree steel pans are crap to cook with. I don’t think we have teflon in our house anymore, it always just peels off. Seriously, do we want bits of who-knows-what in our food?

              Most of our dishes are glass or ceramic. Corning ware makes using glass.

              1. Teflon is verboten in our house: we have 11 pet birds, and overheated teflon is rapidly fatal to them. We also have no hair dryers and are extremely careful when buying ANY heat-producing product like toasters or space heaters because teflon is used in them so often.

        2. I have absolutely no idea about my fertility, because around a decade ago, my doctor told me that I have all the worst genetic health issues from both sides of my families, and if I had a baby, not only would it destroy my body (the pregnancy, not necessarily the birth), and I’d wind up like Shelby in Steel Magnolias, but that the baby would be doomed to have health as bad as mine, or worse, if the baby even survives.

          So, I made peace with never having children, too. It sucks, and I thank God for my brother’s kids, and I love being an aunt. But it still sucks.

          I had no idea about Teflon doing that, but I did know that when I was at college, with just a cast-iron skillet and a cast-iron pot, I LOVED them, and I have missed them for two decades (because I had to get rid of them when I left college – only taking what I could pack in a suitcase and duffle bag), and never replaced them, until this last “Prime Day” on Amazon, I bought one of each, and have to learn how to use them all over again, but YAY! Mostly, I was interested in the sturdiness of them, because we have replaced so many destroyed pots and pans, due to scraping and burning, and cast-iron it super-tough, and it can be reseasoned if the seasoning is destroyed. I figure on passing these on to my niece or nephew one day. Also, some iron leaches into the food, and my sister and I both have some iron deficiency issues. Mine isn’t bad enough to take constipating pills (yet), and I already have other constipating pills, so if I can get iron in my diet, that’s a good thing.

          As for Teflon making me fat, the thought had never occurred to me. Neither did cancer.

          A while back, I saw on YouTube a series of British TV shows, “Hidden Killers in the ______ Home.” They had Tudor home, Victorian, Post-WWII. I wonder what they’ll put in the “Hidden Killers of the 2017 Home”?

          1. I get very upset that nobody worries about these chemicals that we have surrounded ourselves with. I do have teflon pans, but I have been very careful not to scratch them. Then I got a roommate who has scratched them all to pieces. : P When I have a better paying job, I intend to buy better quality, non-teflon pans.

          2. I use non-constipating iron supplements. Made by the Salus company, it is called Floradix (the gluten and yeast free formula is Floravit). I supposed if I used our cast iron pan more, I’d get more iron in my food, but it’s an enormous pan and weighs a ton.

  3. As I’ve said in this section in the past, I have early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The first that diagnosed it blamed it on my weight and even called it “type 3 diabetes.” My current doctor had done some research and she thinks that environment stuff like plastics (I’m in min 60s and was called the “plastic generation”‘because we were the first ones to be exposed to plastics since childhood). Why can’t this research focus on things that really are ace red by our environment (like my Alzheimer’s) and not stuff
    Nobody can control like weight?

  4. This: “That delayed this piece being written by a few hours due to the concussion I experienced from banging my head against my desk.” In my case, my reading of this blog was delayed by a few moments in response to the painful fracture I received when my jaw hit the keyboard. I love you, Ragen! You make me want to open the door and go outside, when I really want to hide. Thank you!

  5. So, cells (not the entire body) from mice (not humans) were exposed to dust (only dust, not any other form of dirt/clutter/mess) from eleven (ridiculously small sample size) to see if “they would be linked with metabolic disruption including triglyceride and preadipocyte accumulation” (link meaning correlation, which we all know does not equal causation).

    And from there, the guy goes to “Household Dust Makes People Fat.”

    I want to scream at the world, “Your Science is Wrong and Your Reporting is Worse!”

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