When the leptin gene was discovered in 1994, news articles predicted that there might soon be an easy, pharmaceutical solution to the growing public health crisis of obesity. Yet this scientific breakthrough merely proved once again how difficult the fight against fat really is. Despite the many appetite-suppressants, diet pills, and weight-loss programs available today, approximately 30 percent of Americans are obese. And that number is expanding rapidly.
Fat is the engaging story of the scientific quest to understand and control body weight. Covering the entire twentieth century, Robert Pool chronicles the evolving blame-game for fat--from being a result of undisciplined behavior to subconscious conflicts, physiological disease, and environmental excess. Readers in today's weight-conscious society will be surprised to learn that being overweight was actually encouraged by doctors and popular health magazines up until the 1930s, when the health risks associated with being overweight were publicly recognized. Thus began decades of research and experiments that subsequently explained appetite, metabolism, and the development of fat cells. Pool effectively reanimates the colorful characters, curious experiments, brilliant insights and wrong turns that led to contemporary scientific understanding of America's epidemic. While he acknowledges the advances in the pharmacological fight against flab, he underscores that the real problem of obesity is not losing the weight but keeping it off. Drugs offer a quick fix, but they aren't the ultimate answer. American society must remedy the unhealthy daily environments of its cities and towns, and those who have struggled with their weight and have experienced the "yo-yo" cycle of dieting must understand the underlying science of body weight that makes their struggle more than a question of willpower.
To his (Pool's) credit, he never forgets that, whatever its roots, obesity does not feel like a scientific or environmental problem to those who struggle with it; it feels like a personal problem. Pool's research has not made him optimistic about the prospects for people like P.J. Nelson, but it has made him compassionate.