Endemic! Week: Obesity

Endemic! Week: an entire week of microfiction crafted around the word “endemic.” If you missed the introduction, read about it here.

A Midsummer Night’s Snack

Tintalle gave up brooding in her rose garden at the arrival of her son.

“Must you ride those things?” asked Tintalle, wrinkling her nose at his mount, a sturdy Clydesdale.

“It’s just a horse, Mother,” he replied.

“Unicorns are more respectable. At least make it a pony.”

“Those aren’t big enough to carry me, Mother,” answered her son. “And you can stop treating me like I’m the family secret. I’m a successful businesself, but all you can talk about is my weight.”

Tintalle colored. “It’s not that I’m ashamed of you. But shouldn’t you cut back on the cookies, Keebler?”


Keebler Chips Deluxe Chocolate Lovers cookies
Keebler Chips Deluxe Chocolate Lovers cookies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone knows that elves are better than you. It’s been a fact of reality from the moment Tolkien penned the background mythology surrounding what would one day be The Lord of the Rings. In The Silmarillion, Tolkien gives the elves pride of place in his creation myth as as the firstborn children of the creator Illuvatar. Elves are ethereally beautiful and immune to physical aging. They can die from sorrow or from physical violence, but not from heart disease or Alzheimer’s Disease.

What did mankind get in Tolkien’s mythos?

The gift of Death.

I’m not making this up. Elves get immortality, and humans get to die.


Given this, it’s fun to think how elves would cope with mundane problems like obesity. We often talk about the “obesity epidemic”, but I think it’s important to recognize that obesity is often more like an endemic disease. It doesn’t spread rapidly like the flu or the Bubonic Plague. It takes years for a person to put on enough weight to reach obesity. Additionally, while anyone can become obese, obesity is associated with specific, localized populations. Generally, obesity is more widespread in industrialized countries (where everyone drives cars) and in impoverished areas (this is complex, but partially it’s because sometimes the cheapest food is fast food).

The mouse on the left has obesity induced by leptin resistance, while mouse on the right is healthy.
The mouse on the left has obesity induced by leptin resistance, while mouse on the right is healthy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the more exciting bits of research on weight gain was the discovery of leptin resistance associated with obesity. Leptin and ghrelin are two hormones that regulate your appetite. Ghrelin sends the signal, “I’m hungry! Time to eat!” Leptin does the opposite – it tells your brain that you’re full. Mouse studies have demonstrated that certain diets can induce leptin resistance. This means that over time, the mouse loses the ability to realize it’s full. It thinks it’s starving, so it keeps eating way past the point of fullness.

Elves may be immortal, but I see no reason why an elf going into the cookie business wouldn’t struggle with sugar-induced leptin resistance as well. And you know what sucks? He’s got all of eternity to deal with all the associated issues.

Who’s laughing now, elves? That’s what I thought!

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