Cornhill Magazine,  7 (1863), 457–68.


[Francis E Anstie]




Health, Physiology, Monstrosities, Disease, Nutrition, Physiological Chemistry, Degeneration, Ancient Authorities, Medical Treatment, Quackery, Neurology

    Addressing 'all classes' and not only 'that large section of the community who remember with fond regret the slimness and activity which were once theirs, and now, alas! have departed', the article examines, as 'a matter of real importance', the 'causes of excessive fatness [...] and how its development may be prevented' (457). Although the 'celebrated Daniel Lambert, probably the fattest man whose history has been recorded, lived to a good age, and, though much encumbered by his bulk, preserved his faculties well', he is one of a few 'exceptions to the general rule' that 'in the majority of instances, the development of a large amount of fat diminishes bodily and mental activity' (457–58). Fat is 'one of the most useful of the tissues' (458) in the body and it performs the necessary function of a 'cushion, filling up the spaces between more important organs, and preventing their mutual pressure and concussion' (458–59). Nevertheless, the 'fatty matter of the body which forms the regular "adipose" tissue' is subject to 'remarkable fluctuations in quantity' that can soon become injurious to health (459). As 'Dr. Stark, who subsequently fell a victim to his enthusiastic zeal for physiological experiments, proved in his own person', it is primarily through the intake of 'food which contains actual fat', such as suet, that the amount of fatty adipose tissue in the body is increased, although it is now also known that 'other than fatty food might generate fatty tissue' by the process of conversion of carbon into hydrogen described by Justus von Liebig (459–60). Anstie goes on to describe how ancient authorities such as Aristotle were greatly concerned with 'what I should call the "disease" obesity', although he remarks knowingly, 'I advise obese readers who may happen to be nervous, to take a glass or two of sherry before reading the following list of remedies' which includes 'bleeding from the jugular vein' and 'removal of the exuberant tissue with the scalpel!' (462–63). Those who lived before the 'important era when physiological chemistry first started into life', however, were ignorant of the 'discovery [of] "fatty degeneration", a process by which the more highly organized tissues are degraded to a lower organic type', and which means that 'the fatty subject as a rule can ill-sustain the shock of acute diseases' and other threats to the bodily system (462). Reflects that the 'lay reader who has a personal interest in the subject of my paper will, however, turn from these matters, of which he cannot fairly judge, to those dietetic and hygienic considerations which must, after all, lie at the foundation of any proper treatment for such an affection as corpulence', and advises adopting a diet that largely avoids 'fatty foods' as well as 'all saccharine and farinaceous matters' (463–64). Also suggests that 'active muscular exercise is a powerful agent in reducing corpulence' (465), although it must be borne in mind that any 'Violent muscular exercise' may end up 'fatally increasing a degeneration of the heart-tissue which had already commenced' (466).

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