Vital statistics hard to resist for researchers in search of fame

Of all the sad spectacles in this sad world there are few more poignant or deserving of our sympathy than the university researcher in search of something to research. The empty coffee cups lined in sullen ranks, the nails bitten to the quick,

A woman puts on pounds when she meets her man – the ‘honeymoon effect’ well known to everyone but Newcastle University’s headline-hungry nutritionists

Of all the sad spectacles in this sad world there are few more poignant or deserving of our sympathy than the university researcher in search of something to research. The empty coffee cups lined in sullen ranks, the nails bitten to the quick, the hair torn out in tufts, the despondency hanging over the scene like a poison cloud.

All that pent-up research energy waiting to be unleashed; the expectant clipboard lying redundant and empty; the computer humming in empty anticipation. What a tragic waste. If Thomas Gray were to return, not to his country churchyard but to the bleak and peeling walls of one of our newer universities, he would find not mute inglorious Miltons but fretful, querulous Nobel aspirants condemned by an unforgiving world to go unsung, unpublished and unlaureled. And all for want of an atom of human knowledge as yet unexplored.

It is therefore that I urge you to look with a kind and absolving eye on the report recently produced by Newcastle University’s Human Nutrition Research Centre, which concluded that women tend to put on weight when they move in with a male partner. Please, I implore you, put this study into context. It is, after all, more than 200 years since the Age of Enlightenment and the explosion of scientific discovery to which it gave rise. The remotest corners of the Earth have been explored; the flora and fauna named, codified and listed; the atom has been split, the genome mapped, the very heavens are yielding up their secrets. What hope for a dietician seeking glory behind the mullioned confines of Newcastle University? So, one can only imagine the little gasp of joy on that glad morning when Inspiration’s dart found its mark and a vision of cohabiting fat women rose like Aphrodite from her shell in the mind’s eye of the Human Nutrition Research Centre.

True, it takes neither imagination nor inspiration to think of fat women in present times. Like sorrow and pain, they surround us and we dwell in their midst. I’ll wager that in Newcastle-upon-Tyne it is impossible to heave a bottle of brown ale down any thoroughfare without toppling several fat women as in a skittle alley. That said, it is the genius of the researcher to seize upon the commonplace and, by dint of statistical embroidery and linguistic embellishment, transform it into a headline.

Though it might strike you and me as being of no interest, substance, import or relevance that women tend to put on weight after taking that fateful decision to share a dining table with a member of the opposite sex, to the researcher it is the stuff of fame which, however transient, is a prize beyond pearls. Of course it does not suffice simply to state the bald fact that a woman measuring, say, 36 inches round the middle before two hearts became one and beat beneath the same roof, measured 40 inches some 20 suppers later. We burn with curiosity to know why. Yes, we know it’s something she ate, but what made her do it?

Now, say what you like about the Human Nutrition Research Centre at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, little gets past them. Instantly alive to this question, they were able to furnish an answer. “The reason for the change in dietary habits is that both partners try to please each other during the ‘honeymoon period’ at the start of a cohabiting relationship, by adjusting their routine to suit their partner and eating food that he or she likes”.

So when a woman moves in with a man, she abjures the lettuce leaves and low-fat yoghurt that hitherto were her staples and, after rolling up her sleeves and loosening her belt, gets stuck into double cheeseburgers, supersize fries, ketchup and extra onions, after which into the rebellious, seething cauldron of her belly she pours six pints of lager. And all because she loves not wisely but too well.

But what of the man? We may assume for argument’s sake that he enters this relationship a representative British male – overweight, bald, tattooed and solid granite from the neck up. But how does he fare within it? Remember, during the honeymoon period – that brief interlude between the onset of tranquillity and the hurling of objects – both partners try to please each other by eating food that she or he likes.

So when a woman moves in with a man, he forswears the double cheeseburgers and instead nibbles a moody lettuce frond. Result: bald, tattooed and mentally negligible he remains, but thinner withal.

That, at any rate, is what the research tells us. And if we take it, as we must, with a pinch of salt, then upon our own heads be it.

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