(10/02/12) - Getting paid to pig out and pack on pounds may sound like a dream job, but the idea behind it is to learn more about, and hopefully better understand, the health consequences of obesity.
"It's a worse epidemic than the bubonic plaque, than HIV infection, than almost anything you can think of," says Dr. Samuel Klein, of Washington University's school of medicine in St. Louis.
More than 60 percent of people in the United States are considered overweight or obese, Klein says, "it's abnormal, it's unusual to be lean in this country."
For some, obesity will lead to type two diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. But, for 25 percent of obese people, there appear to be no adverse health effects. Now researchers are trying to learn why.
The goal of the "Overfeeding" study is to find out why obesity causes metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, in some people but not in others. The findings will help identify the factors that are protecting some obese people from those adverse effects.
"We really are paying people to gain weight, there's no question about it," Klein admits.
O. R. nurse, Dawn Freeman, participated in the "Overfeeding" study. She was paid $3,500, plus food expenses, to eat an extra 1,000 calories a day.
One of Dawn's secret weapons, she says, "McDonalds! I finally settled on their Angus burger."
Dr. Klein says using fast food is a cheap and easy way to track calories.
It definitely worked for Dawn, who gained 20 pounds in two months. "I couldn't climb stairs after 2 to 3 weeks. I was tired, I couldn't breathe."
"If we can understand that link better, we can develop better therapies to break that link," Klein says.
After gaining 5 percent of her body weight, Dawn was put on a six month weight-loss program. Five months into it, she is back to her normal weight.
Klein says preliminary study results show some people really are resistant to the adverse effects of weight gain. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and is still enrolling. Volunteers must already be obese.
For more information, visit https://vfh.wustl.edu/currentstudies/studiesdetail.aspx?Category=Nutrition/Metabolism&Reference%20Number=10-0708
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