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Study: Fat People More Likely to Be Stupid, reads a headline, and oh look, it’s accompanied by a photo of a fat person I don’t like! Isn’t it great when science officially confirms our bigotry?
Of course, it would help if that was in fact what actual research confirmed, but let’s be honest, who reads past the headline, let alone reading the actual study it’s supposed to be referencing (and yes, in this case the study is available in full online to anyone who wants to read it, though admittedly reading it would require knowing how to read a scientific study).
In this case, the actual study not only doesn’t show that fat people are stupider than thin people, but it doesn’t even begin to look at intelligence. At all.
The researchers in question are actually very clear in the study, pointing out that this is preliminary research using a tiny sample size of people — 32, of which 2 were underweight, 17 were normal weight, 6 were overweight, and 7 were obese. And they didn’t give any of them intelligence tests or attempt to evaluate their relative stupidity in any other way. All the researchers did was give the subjects MRIs.
And what they found was simply a correlation between BMI (body mass index) as well as BFP (body fat percentage) with brain structure and activity, particularly in areas of the brain associated with impulsivity and reward processing. Remember a few weeks ago when we learned that potheads’ brains’ reward centers light up differently when they see pot compared to when they see pencils? Yeah, that also didn’t mean that potheads are stupid. It means that what they do affects their brains, and their brains affect what they do.
So this new research shows a correlation between BMI/BFP with certain brain structures, and it’s worth noting that that correlation holds true across all the subjects’ body types, meaning that there were differences between “underweight” and “normal” subjects and even within the “normal” itself. And there were some outliers, which become more important the smaller your sample size is.
Plus, there’s no way to know if the correlations are actually causation, meaning that putting on body weight affects our brains, or if there’s causation the other way, meaning that differences in our brains affects our ultimate body weight.
Kudos to the researchers in this study for not only clearly stating their research’s limitations in the published paper but also for speaking out against the ridiculous way their research was taken out of context in the media.