Posted on February 28, 2011 - by

Chunky Monkey: Obesity Research on the Modern Diet

Photo: Barbara C. Hansen, University of South Florida via NYT

Meet Fat Albert. Like many in contemporary society, he is overweight, enjoys indulging in a sugary treat or two, and does not get much exercise. Unlike many, he is a lab monkey—living a lifestyle designed to induce weight gain and obesity.

At the Oregon National Primate Research Center, scientists have developed a colony of overweight monkeys to study the effects of diet on weight gain and diabetes (NYT). Director Kevin L. Grove explained, “We are trying to induce the couch-potato style. We believe that mimics the health issues we face in the United States today.”

The monkeys are used to gauge the effects of high fat and sugar diets on health, along with experimental drugs used to treat related illnesses. Studies are being conducted on appetite suppressants and hormonal mechanisms that can be used to treat diabetes. In addition, it is much easier to monitor a monkey’s dietary intake, compared to relying on surveys of human subjects who may fudge their numbers.

To fatten the monkeys, they are fed dried chow pellets with a high fat content contributing to one-third of caloric intake. (This is comparable to the level of fat in the average American diet.) Peanut butter, popcorn and peanuts are also given to the monkeys as snacks, along with a fruity punch that contains as much fructose as a can of soda. To limit movement, the animals are kept in individual cages without access to swings or climbing equipment.

Surprisingly, about 40% of the primates do not gain a lot of weight. Researcher Barbara Hansen suggested that caloric intake was more influential on weight gain than fat. “To suggest that humans and monkeys get fat because of a high-fat diet is not a good suggestion,” Hansen said. Other results hinted that it is the combination of high fructose corn syrup and calories that leads to obesity and diabetes. “It wasn’t until we added those carbs that we got all those other changes, including those changes in body fat,” said Anthony Comuzzie, scientist at the Southwest National Primate Research Center.

Is this research providing valuable insights on diets high in calories, fat and carbohydrates? Or do you think this is a form of animal abuse? Is it any worse than the average confined factory farm operation?

Drop me a line at crystal@freshthemovie.com.

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