It's no secret that the Western world is getting fatter. We're all seemingly hell-bent on expanding until we inevitably merge into one humongous lard-beast that will run (well, waddle) rampant across the planet. But it's not entirely the fault of our sedentary lifestyles. As we've mentioned before, there are far stranger forces than Loaded Doritos working to embiggen your ass.
Niels Kliim/iStock/Getty Images
When was the last time you slept in a truly dark room? Streetlights that shimmer behind the curtains, digital alarm clocks (people still use those, right?), and the hordes of electric devices on standby mode, staring at you with their unblinking LED eyes while they feast on excess electricity like the energy vampires that they are. We've already told you that all those harmless little lights are actually stressing you out and messing up your melatonin levels. Turns out, that's not the only thing they're screwing with: exposure to light as you sleep might also make you fat.
Everyone's the same weight in the dark.
Researchers at Ohio State University made this discovery by messing with the sleep cycles of mice. One group got to sleep in darkness, while the other had to snooze in roughly the equivalent of a cheap strip club. Not only did the mice exposed to light gain weight but they actually increased their body mass a full 50 percent. In eight weeks. Oh, and they also showed signs of impaired glucose tolerance, which of course is science-speak for two heaping scoops of diabetes.
There are a few possible reasons behind the phenomenon. One theory says it could be those pesky melatonin levels (which also regulate metabolism) again. Alternately, the nocturnal lights could mess with clock genes (which control when animals are active and eating). Whatever the cause, the light messed with their circadian rhythm, they behaved more nocturnally, and they started feeding at times they normally wouldn't. Not eating more than usual, just at different times. Of course, when the experiment was conducted with restricted access to food, nobody gained a pound. So there you go, easy solution: just make sure there's never any food in your house after sundown and you're golden.
Actually, let us know when you've got that ready. We've been trying to unload these Mogwais for months.
The fashion industry creates horribly skewed standards by using models so thin that they might as well be genetically spliced from stick insects, then Photoshops them into unnatural, perfection-laced missiles and aims them directly at a woman's self-esteem. Of course, the cosmetic industry has far more direct ways to mess with our bodies. Personal care products such as lotions, perfumes, deodorant, cosmetics, etc., all typically contain chemicals called phthalates. Exposure to these little fellas can mess with the endocrine system by tricking your body into secreting insulin when you don't really need it.
Sweet, bonus insulin!
"My pancreas could really use a break."
Surely this will insulate us against the savage winters that climate change is bringing our way. The bad news: having your system pumped full of insulin can lead to insulin resistance, which has long been linked with obesity.
Children are particularly susceptible to phthalate exposure, a fact we know because a group of researchers spent considerable time analyzing the pee of a bunch of kids. Once again, the only thing standing between science and perversion is a lab coat. When they assessed the toddlers a year later, the findings were alarming: almost everyone (over 97 percent) had been exposed to phthalates, and the greater the exposure was, the higher the kids' body mass index and the more expansive their waistlines.
Even the molecule looks tubby.
"Well, what the hell," you may think. "It's as good an excuse as any to stop spending money on all of those pesky lotions and deodorants only to have them rub off on our fat, fat children. Let's all save the kids and power a city bus with only the vigor of our stench!"
Wouldn't do a thing! Because phthalates make plastic soft and flexible, you can also find them in car interiors, shower curtains, medical devices, medication/supplement coatings, children's toys, rattles, and teethers. Yes -- children's toys, rattles, and pacifiers. Literally one of the first things we give to our kids is apparently a one-way ticket to Fatlanta.
Bisphenol A deserves its bad reputation. Not only does it disturb the endocrine system like that gunk in your personal care products, it's also fully capable of taking cells that may or may not become fat cells and making sure they damn well do -- just like the Fat Virus we'll talk about next. Truly, BPA is a fat chemical.
Not to be confused with fat acids.
BPA is commonly used as a color developer, which means you'll find it in paper products like receipts, newspapers, business cards, and even that quaint, old-fashioned magazine pornography that the gentlemen of yesteryear favored. And yes, BPA screws up your body even in small doses, and it jumps to your system with remarkable efficiency. In fact, researchers have recently demonstrated that just two hours of handling receipts leads to significantly higher levels of BPA in your pee.
Edgar181, marcovarro/iStock/Getty Images
"What are you cackling at, fatty? Too much pie, that's your problem."
More worrying is BPA's presence in products such as napkins, paper towels, and toilet paper. If it can slip into your system just from you flipping through a yellowed and dog-eared copy of Juggs, it will certainly make the leap if you wipe your mouth with something covered in it. That's all thanks to recycling. So now you have to choose: save the Earth, or run out of breath jogging to the ice cream truck?
Sian Kennedy/The Image Bank/Getty Images
"Joke's on you, I order my ice cream online for delivery."
Imagine a world where obesity isn't behavioral but caught like a nasty cold.
"Sorry, boss. Can't come in today. Came down with bad case of the fats. No, chicken soup doesn't help, but I'll take some anyway."
Now stop imagining, because contagious obesity is a real thing.
"Cover your mouth when you fat!"
Adenovirus 36 appears to be a simple cold at first. However, there's one little thing that differentiates AD-36 from its peers: it also takes otherwise undifferentiated cells in your body and starts turning them into fat cells at a rapid pace. Virtually every animal that science has seen fit to infect with AD-36 has gained weight, including some of our closest relatives. Yes, Outbreak 2: Fat Monkeys is a terrifying reality.
Scientists haven't infected humans (as far as we know), but that's probably because there's no need to: research has already shown that there is a significant association between AD-36 and human obesity, to the point where two otherwise identical twins can radically differ in weight if one of them happens to have the Fat Virus. So it's still fine to giggle at two fat twins riding tiny motorcycles, but if you see one fat twin and one skinny one, you run like hell. It might not keep you safe from the virus, since we don't really know how it spreads yet, but hey -- might burn some calories.
Eyecandy Images/Eyecandy Images/Getty Images
Also, the twins are trying to run you down with their motorcycles. We forgot to mention that part.
Hey, you been breathing today, buddy? Oh yeah, how much? Jesus! Really?! What are you doing, binging on all that filthy atmosphere? Don't you know that air is the new bacon?
"Ugh, Canadian air. Gross."
Some Canadian researchers believe that CO2 causes blood to become more acidic, which in turn affects brain cells that regulate metabolism, sleep, and appetite. Now, take a wild guess which naturally occurring chemical compound we're breathing in way more than we used to. It's not just us, either. Animals have been packing on pounds too, and it looks like the whole CO2 thing is the only likely culprit: one ambitious 2012 study by Danish researchers demonstrated that a hefty 20,000 test animals of eight different species, all housed in different laboratories, had their average weight go through the roof over the past 50 years. If you don't believe CO2 is a factor, here: they were nice enough to calculate some probabilities: the chances of such a trend happening randomly are 1 in 10,000,000, and CO2 is the only viable common denominator they found.
Until they found out the TV in the experimental group's room was tuned to the Food Network.
If this turns out to be true, we're all obviously screwed. We can't legally call ourselves doctors, but we're pretty sure the continued existence of our species depends on breathing. Without it, humanity as a whole will just disappear into thin air.
Well, fat air.
Follow Lisa on Instagram if you enjoy pictures of food and cats, together at last.
For more reasons your belly is still expanding, check out 5 Diabolical Ways Your Body Tricks You into Being Fat and 8 Health Foods That Are Bad For Your Health.
Help your friends and family struggling with weight gain by clicking the Facebook 'share' button and spreading this knowledge. Maybe if we all switch to e-books and start sleeping in caves we can stem the tide of obesity.