Will Fidget Spinners give you Obesity?

fidget spinners

Will they? Is that really a live option that we should be worried about? After all, the Obesity Epidemic seems to be a big enough problem anyways.

The answer is no. A fidget spinner will not “give you” obesity any more than a person with totally normal Leptin levels will “get obesity” from eating twenty deep fried Oreo’s at the summer fair. Obesity isn’t something you “get,” it is something you have and then get, and anybody who thinks otherwise should read this article before continuing to think that way.

Scott’s summary-of-a-summary is way to intense to summarize here (nor would I chase the folly of attempting a meta-meta-meta-summary of the literature). But there is one interesting anecdote in the piece that is worth mentioning.

Scott lifts this text directly from Guyenet:

Genes explain that friend of yours who seems to eat a lot of food, never exercises, and yet remains lean. Claude Bouchard, a genetics researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has shown that some people are intrinsically resistant to gaining weight even when they overeat, and that this trait is genetically influenced. Bouchard’s team recruited twelve pairs of identical twins and overfed each person by 1,000 calories per day above his caloric needs, for one hundred days. In other words, each person overate the same food by the same amount, under controlled conditions, for the duration of the study.

If overeating affects everyone the same, then they should all have gained the same amount of weight. Yet Bouchard observed that weight gain ranged from nine to twenty-nine pounds! Identical twins tended to gain the same amount of weight and fat as each other, while unrelated subjects had more divergent responses…Not only do some people have more of a tendency to overeat than others, but some people are intrinsically more resistant to gaining fat even if they do overeat.

The research of James Levine, an endocrinologist who works with the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University, explains this puzzling phenomenon. In a carefully controlled overfeeding study, his team showed that the primary reason some people readily burn off excess calories is that they ramp up a form of calorie-burning called “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” (NEAT). NEAT is basically a fancy term for fidgeting. When certain people overeat, their brains boost calorie expenditure by making them fidget, change posture frequently, and make other small movements throughout the day. It’s an involuntary process, and Levine’s data show that it can incinerate nearly 700 calories per day. The “most gifted” of Levine’s subjects gained less than a pound of body fat from eating 1,000 extra calories per day for eight weeks. Yet the strength of the response was highly variable, and the “least gifted” of Levine’s subjects didn’t increase NEAT at all, shunting all the excess calories into fat tissue and gaining over nine pounds of body fat…

Together, these studies offer indisputable evidence that genetics plays a central role in obesity and dispatch the idea that obesity is primarily due to acquired psychological traits.

I found the Levine (2012) study here but that is paywalled and I couldn’t find a pdf floating around on google in the 20 seconds I bothered to search.

The implication is fairly straightforward that fidgeting burns calories to ward off excess weight gain, which means that fidgeting is a natural, healthy, regular thing to do. 

Fidget spinners are an annoying toy designed to prevent children from fidgeting in class, but it seems to my inductive mind that anything that decreases NEAT will decrease the physiological effects of NEAT, which is calorie burning, and so then the person will not burn as many calories as their body attempted to burn.

I can draw several conclusions about the irony of fidget spinners in that they seek to help kids focus (instead of fidget) in the most distracting way humanly possible. A shiny thing, and it is moving, and it moves faster than the eye can distinguish, and — what was that, teacher? The absolute value bars do what?

(But that implication is only hypothetical, as is my less-than-hypothetically-confident narrative about ADHD diagnosis in children and the degree to which the educational environment treats young children (especially boys) like 18 years olds, and then gets mad then they underperform those unreachable standards. Again, that is even less sure.)

But this concept of NEAT calorie burning is both insightful, straightforward, and probably the only thing that has stopped this sedentary 19 year old from reaching the Freshman 15 so far. A Fidget Spinner will not give you obesity. But it could undermine a process designed to prevent weight gain.

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