06 July 2009

Research: desperate diet industry turns to seal milk for magic bullet

I went to see Werner Herzog's documentary about Antarctica the other week. The film is called Encounters at the End of the World and was originally released in 2007. I loved the film but there was a sequence in it that made me emit a startled Eek!

Herzog filmed a pair of research scientists out in the field, one of whom is Olav Oftedal. The research involves taking milk samples from female seals nursing their pups. The scientists do this by creeping up behind a seal and her cub, putting a big hood type thing over the seal's head and extracting some milk from her. They insist that it has no adverse psychological effect on the seals, but it's hard to believe that because of the sudden and apparently traumatic nature of the hooding and milk collection.

Seals lose about 40% of their body weight when they are lactating, and their milk is extremely rich. Herzog's voiceover explained that Oftedal's research related to the search for weight loss in humans.

Now then, the voiceover could have been wrong and I could be mis-remembering it. It could be that 'weight loss' is a cover proposed by Oftedal and his team so that they can nab some funding and go to do their thing in Antarctica. I've done a quick search and still have no idea if or how this research relates to weight loss.

I suppose my Eek! was that, despite these hesitations, it is entirely possible that lactating seals could be being studied to provide yet another possible magic solution to the problem of obesity. I continued to go Eek! with the awful realisation of just how obsessive the scientific search for weight loss might be. Lactating seals. If Oftedal's research is really about human weight loss then I might as well give up my work in Fat Studies because there's no way I can compete with that depth of obsession. Just so you know.


Tiana said...

I'm not sure if this is an appropriate response or if I'm just mad, but I can't stop laughing.

Lactating seals.


Anonymous said...

"Seals lose about 40% of their body weight when they are lactating"

yeah, but does it stay off? I'm serious.

I lost ~20 pounds when I was lactating for my first child. Once he started solids, it came back (plus another 20).

I lost ~60 pounds whist lactating for my second child (I was following a diet that restricted all grains, dairy, legumes and sugar at the time). And I swore that I would be vigilant about keeping it off when he started solids.

Yeah. It came back (plus another 30).

Not a permanent solution. And the yo-yo effect sucks. But the breastfeeding was a lovely experience -- probably because nobody snuck up behind me, threw a hood over me, and groped my tits.

spoonfork38 said...

I lost no weight while breastfeeding either of my children---and,frankly,that wasn't the point---so good luck to them.

Of course, I am not a seal (in case there was any confusion), and I'm assuming that even lactating seals, who presumably can't hunt for food while caring for a newborn pup, do not have their local pizza place on speed dial or a husband who delivers Chinese. I don't think there's much to research, here.

But I can imagine a scientist thinking, "I really want to save the seals and their environment, but the only way to get funding is to say my findings will help humans lose weight permanently. And since that's a complete dead end anyway, I'll never be asked to produce . . . "