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The Hungry Gene: The Science of Fat and the Future of Thin Hardcover – October, 2002

22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1 edition (October 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871138565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871138569
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,942,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Science journalist Ellen Shell notes near the end of this fascinating study about being fat and how we got that way that "Twenty-seven percent of Americans are already obese." She predicts that, unless something is done, "virtually all Americans will be overweight by 2030, and half will be obese." (p. 230)
Why? Lack of will-power? Lack of exercise? Our genetic constitution? Ignorance? Indoctrination through advertising by the fast and junk food industries? Answer: all of the above except lack of will-power. When it comes to eating, will-power really has nothing to do with it. Food is a "drug" we can't quit cold turkey. Abstinence is impossible. We must eat, and so the temptation to overeat and/or eat the wrong foods will always be with us. Not only that but we are constantly being bombarded with messages from the purveyors of food to eat this, eat that, eat more, more and more. Super-sizing the proles is a massively huge business.
So what to do? Are we looking at a future in which most of us are round mounds of huffing and puffing blubber subject to diabetes and an early death? Shell is hopeful. She believes that if we can somehow regulate the fast food industry in a manner similar to way we are regulating the tobacco industry (see the final chapter), if we educate the public, and turn down the constant din of fast and junk food advertizing, and keep sodas and junk food out of our schools while increasing exercise programs especially for school children, there is hope. However, as Shell illustrates graphically by the story she tells on herself to end Chapter Ten, it is more likely that instead of exercising, we will get into the car, "rev the engine, and steer toward dinner.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Gabriel J. Pereira on August 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Keeping the food theme alive, I'll start by way of analogy...
Have you ever dined at a fine restaurant, had a well planned, beautifully executed and thought provoking meal, only to have the entire experience scuttled by a ho-hum dessert and a burnt cup of coffee? Such was my encounter with The Hungry Gene.
Author Ellen Shell, a consistent contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, is among the top science writers in the United States today and she adroitly demonstrates her literary and research skills in every piece she creates. This book is no exception as she sets the stage with great finesse and takes us through a brief monograph of the philosophy and treatment of obesity from ancient history to the mid twentieth century. She then moves to the early theories of genetics and obesity and on to the core of her book, the absolutely riveting story (full of juicy back-stabbing details and deal making) of Dr. Jeffrey Friedman and his research team's obsessive search for the magic genetic bullet to cure obesity, and the resulting avarice of the pharmaceutical industry in trying to procure and apply the research.
Shell then elaborates on the genetic ties to obesity through a chapter dedicated to the Kosrae people (an indigenous Micronesian population brought to obesity by the Westernization of their foodways) and a chapter concerning pediatric and adolescent obesity illustrated through the study of children conceived and born during the Nazi siege of Holland of 1944-45 and additional prenatal research performed by Dr. David Barker, a Southampton, UK based epidemiologist. These studies are sited in support of the strong correlation between a pregnant mother's food intake and a child's pre-disposition towards obesity.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I heard the author speaking on public radio--she was fascinating (I sat in my car listening.) The book is fascinating, too, there is so much in there--the history of dieting and obesity surgery, the race to clone the first obesity gene, the politics of the food and drug industry, even a travelogue of sorts when the author travels to Micronesia, where almost overnight more than three quarters of the adults became obese. There is a chapter on something called prenatal programming that talks about how life in the womb can effect long term health--that was totally new to me (and I work in a medical field.) I read a lot of books on science and health, usually just for the information, but this one is different--the author is a wonderful writer (I'll admit to having read other things she's written, in the Atlantic Monthly and Discover) so the book just flies by. And I learned so much. Excellent read, great information...this one has got it all. I don't usually review books, but this topic is so important I thought I'd let people know...
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Todd I. Stark VINE VOICE on October 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book a a truly superb work of science journalism. It tells a complex story of diverse research threads with sometimes contradictory conclusions, and it tells it incredibly well. By the time you finish this book, you will have a much better idea how to realistically interpret for yourself the claims for the latest diet or latest exercise machine or weight loss pill or program. You will have a much better idea what is "in your genes" and what is not, what you can attribute to "slow metabolism" and what you can't. In bringing together all of this diverse research and telling its story so well, this book is a landmark in explaining what sorts of things we can control, and where we are spinning our wheels.
Not only is the story of obesity research interesting and relevant to all of us, but it is extremely difficult to get the whole picture. Each article and each news story tends to cover what is novel or most fascinating about research, and the solution the author is promoting, and usually ignores the background and the consensus already formed. The Hungry Gene covers all of the central lines of research: the modification of behavior, the influence of genes, the way the body regulates its own weight, the role of food industries and marketing, and makes each set of findings clear. Equally important, the author makes it clear what we still don't know about human weight control.
There simply isn't any non-technical source to find out what is known about obesity, and the technical sources don't tell the story nearly so well, and they tend to be speciallized to a particular field. The Hungry Gene brings it all together coherently.
An important and highly relevant education-in-a-book on a deeply interesting topic. Hard to beat a bargain like that. It's rare to find a book that meets such a pressing need for scientific information in such a skillful way.
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