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The Hungry Gene: The Science of Fat and the Future of Thin [Hardcover]

Ellen Shell
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

More than 1.1 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese. How and why did the world get so fat? Shell, a journalist and codirector of the Program in Science Journalism at Boston University, explores the issue from many angles including the roles of genetics, pharmaceutical companies, the food industry and social class. She charts the growth in scientific research on obesity and obesity treatments in the last decade (from stomach stapling to the notoriously dangerous drug Fen-Phen), explaining the biology of metabolism that makes it so difficult to circumvent the body's appetite. Shell also explores the lifestyle culprits behind obesity, traveling to Micronesia to document the residents of the island of Kosrae, whose average life span has plummeted in recent years due to the introduction of high-fat Western food. Though she lucidly explains the physiology of fat, Shell fills the book with chatty profiles of patients and doctors ("Rudy Leibel is a small man and trim... He has a degree in English literature, and a weakness for poetry") and her prose reads like that of a glossy magazine. There is also much in the book that may be familiar to readers; the spotlights on new obesity treatments are compelling, but it will come as no surprise that too much high-fat, calorie-dense food and too little exercise trigger obesity. On the other hand, given that Big-Tobacco-style class-action lawsuits against fast food companies are under consideration, some may find Shell's arguments for the regulation of junk-food TV advertising, among other measures, timely and provocative.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This is not quick-fix diet book. It's a science journalist's study of why we are fatter than ever (60 percent of Americans should be skipping dessert today) and what is being done about it.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Science journalist Shell brings science, history, and economics to bear in this penetrating look at how and why an increasing number of people in developed nations are obese and what can be done about it. Shell outlines the life-threatening illnesses posed by obesity--hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. She explores historic public and medical opinions on obesity--from attributing it to lack of moral fortitude to classifying it as a genetic disorder--and the various cures, including starvation and stomach stapling. Shell also offers a fascinating cast in the scientists, doctors, and patients who are tracking down the causes of obesity. Despite the general lack of public sympathy for the obese, the predicted profits to be made on weight reduction are fueling a growing conflict between scientific discovery and commercial interests. Readers interested in health and science will enjoy this fascinating book, although be forewarned that some descriptions may be too graphic for some readers' tastes. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

From the Inside Flap

American today faces a gathering health crises of epic proportions. The crisis is obesity and the diseases linked to it--hypertension, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. While politicians and public officials declare war against fat, and multinational drug companies race to find a cure, the problem only worsens, with experts estimating that fully half of Americans will be obese--and the majority overweight--within the next quarter century.

In a rare blend of erudition and entertainment, acclaimed science journalist Ellen Ruppel Shell reveals for the first time the secret history and subtle politics behind the explosion of obesity in the United States and the world. Shell traces the epidemics legacy to the Ice Age, its rise through the Industrial Revolution and the early days of medicine and into modernity. She takes readers to the front lines of the struggle to come to grips with this baffling plague--from the modest laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, where the first suberobese mice were bred, to Rockefeller University in New York to witness the cutthroat--and heart breaking--race to clone the obese gene, to the far-flung tropical islands of Micronesia, where a horrifying outbreak of obesity among native islanders has helped scientists tease out the disorder's genetic and evolutionary roots.

The Hungry Gene offers an unfliching insiders look into the radical and controversial pharmacological and surgical techniques used to combat what drug makers have dubbed the trillion dollar disease, exposing the colusion between scientists and industry that for so long muddied the waters of obesity research and endangered untold thousands of unwitting victims. With vivid portraits of the scientists involved, Shell illustrates the breakthrough that proved conclusively that obesity is not a matter of glottony or weak will but of vulnerable genes preyed upon by a hostile environment. Ultimately, she takes aim at the increasingly obesity-enabling culture that lies behind the crisis, telling the hard truths of what must be done to turn the tide on this frightening pandemic.

Weaving cutting edge science, psychology, anthropology with history, Shell builds a compelling narrative culminating in a thought provoking--and radical--call to arms. Gripping and provocative, The Hungry Gene is the unsettling saga of how the world got fat--and what we can do about it.

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