By Michael Anchors, MD, PhD
My sister is my main helper, taking the initial history on new patients, and she is a dog lover. When I get the chart, it always has information on the patient’s pets. I didn’t ask for this, but it has had a useful result–I have noticed that all the dogs and most of the cats of obese patients are themselves obese. This confirms that animals presented with an excess of food will overeat. I suppose we should not have expected the majority of people to be any different.
If in the past or in other countries people kept their weight down, it was due to (1) a lack of food, (2) a culture prizing leanness such as in Argentina or (3) fortuitous cultural habits such as the French long lunch and small supper. Some people may be overweight due to genetic events such as a defect in the TRIM-28 gene, but rare events like that cannot explain the common obesity of Americans and Mexicans. Most of it is behavioral.
If your dog is fat, why don’t you feed him less? He can’t get his own snacks or overfill his bowl. When I was a child, my parents fed our dogs once a day, not twice. In the future I will suggest to new patients that they put their fat pets on a diet. I roundly expect to find that patients who can’t get their fat dog to lose weight, can’t lose weight themselves either. And that among patients who do lose weight, the exercise of thinking about their pet’s weight will help the patients lose.