Novel diet for mice and men

After tests on mice, researchers say they can now reduce body fat through injections. But, whatever the moral implications, no amount of jabs will stop us from ageing

After all the seasonal talk about fat cats, there was something inevitable about the appearance of a fat mouse.

It has no name, lives in the US and is the most spectacularly successful slimmer of the year. Such was the excitement generated by its “before and after” pictures – showing it first as a small, hairy pumpkin, and then as wee and sleekit as the poet Burns could have wished – that Wall Street rushed to buy shares in the company whose treatment had brought about the transformation.

Short of finding a cure for cancer, Aids, and unhappiness, there could be no discovery closer to the innermost yearnings of humankind than a painless way of slimming.

Researchers at Amgen, a Cali-fornia-based biotechnology company, believe they have the prize within their grasp. They have produced a genetically-engineered hormone which, when injected into the fat mouse, made it thin.

Clinical trials will now determine whether the drug works on humans. If it does, the world will never be the same again. And more’s the pity. For a uniform world is a dull world. In an age of political correctness, when it is de rigueur to celebrate the diversities of gender, sexual orientation and so on, let’s hear it for the fat people.

Where would Laurel have been without Hardy? Could the art of Donald McGill have thrived if the ladies on his saucy postcards had been vinegary thin? Was Caesar wrong to say: “Let me have men about me that are fat; sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights”?

Like smokers, fat people are advertisements for lives led in defiance of bleak convention. They have seized the Biblical injunction to eat and drink, for tomorrow we die, embracing it with a fervour that puts timorous, skinny folk to shame.

Those folds of fat, surplus inches, double chins and pendulous dewlaps bear proud testimony to a willingness to bear the consequences of one’s actions. And so, in their own and very different way, does the great and noble army of dieters, joggers, aerobic dancers, weight-lifters and wishful thinkers. For they too accept the ineluctable link between what we do to our bodies and how they look.

Then along comes science and threatens to turn nature on its head. The promise is that we may eat what we like, laze as we wish and, for the price of a simple injection, remain svelte and comely, shaped for sportive tricks and made to court an amorous looking-glass.

There is something deeply immoral – and unnatural – about this abuse of science. The slimming injection is no different in principle to the ancient Roman taste for gorging followed by induced vomiting. Both are devices to avoid the consequences of one’s actions – and both are repellent.

People get fat because they eat too much and exercise too little. This is one of life’s equations. It ought not to be prescriptive. The words “too” are dependent on the desirability, or otherwise, of being fat. Those who are proud to possess a fuller figure, or simply don’t give two hoots about their waistlines, will neither eat “too much” or exercise “too little”, though busybody observers might think differently.

On the other hand, those who yearn to conform to the Graeco-Roman ideal of bodily beauty must strive to achieve a balance between the energy they consume in terms of the food they eat and the energy they expend in physical exercise. It is both bootless and childish to live on Big Macs, drive everywhere and bemoan the gap that lies between your shape and that of Adonis.

Of course, it will be argued that some people are born fat – and that is true. But such is life’s rich diversity. Not everyone can hope to be tall, blond, handsome, musically talented, athletic, or whatever else is deemed desirable according to the prevailing criteria. Most of us have to settle for a lot less, yet amazingly still find life worth living.

Such discontent as there is – much of it among women – is blamed on the fashion and ad industries. According to an accusatory Times leader, they are obsessed with “a stick insect ideal”. Regrettably, you have to admit there is some truth in this charge.

Advertisers do not celebrate the ugly, the untalented and the fat. In a secular age, where people are no longer content with the bodies God gave them, billion-pound industries are devoted to helping them look like what they are not and encouraging them to attain an impossible ideal. By making that ideal seem not only possible but universally attainable, the slimming injection will be the cause of much mischief and disappointment.

For you may be sure that people who are fat today and constantly put in medal winning performances as failed dieters will not be content to find themselves thinner. They would soon discover imperfections other than excess poundage. When fat melts away it reveals bandy legs, misaligned knees, spinal curvature, fallen arches and unsatisfactory bosoms. Are they, too, to be spirited away by a genetically-engineered hormone? Is there even now a mouse somewhere in California undergoing treatment for low cheek-bones?

There is another problem, so dreadful it is rarely spoken of, and then only in whispers. It is that none of us gets any younger. As Marilyn Monroe sang with such bitter-sweet poignancy: “A man may grow cold as a girl grows old, and we all lose our shape in the end”. The ageing process does, indeed, alter our appearance, and seldom for the better. Most of us mark time with the march of anno domini by putting on weight, usually around the middle. Will the slimming jab make us younger? Will pigs fly?


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