Of mice and men: Obesity and light exposure

Thinking about losing weight? Well, if you had a look at the websites of the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail this week, you don’t need to go an a diet anymore, but simply to the light switch. “Want to lose weight? Turn off the lights” stated the Daily Telegraph, and the Daily Mail wrote in its health section “How switching off the lights could help you lose weight”.

But before you now head for your fuse box to set your whole family on a radical no-light-diet, let me just tell you: It’s not as simple as they promise.

Both articles refer to the study Light at night increases body mass by shifting the time of food intake” published in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America earlier this week. What the title doesn’t mention, is that the study was actually conducted with mice. Yes, mice. To be fair, both the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail mention this in their article – but not until the forth paragraph.

Now experiments with mice are quite common in medicine, and since mice and men are to a degree physiologically alike, effects that occur in mice might also occur in men. But does the fact, that mice which are exposed to light during the night gain weight mean, that human beings will lose weight when their nights are pitch-black?

Everyone who has ever been on a diet knows, that gaining a few more kilos is much easier than getting rid of tem. So the conclusion drawn by the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail is a bit overhasty until there is no evidence for this assumption.

Maybe they should had have a look at the website of The Economist, where the study of weight-gaining mice was also reported. In “The dark side of light” the subheading already tells the real story: That the study is not about men losing, but mice gaining weight.

Also in the article itself the author clearly states, that these findings might, but don’t necessary have to be transferable for men. Different to the articles mentioned above, The Economist does not arouse wrong beliefs, but simply sticks to the facts – as every journalist should do.

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5 Responses to Of mice and men: Obesity and light exposure

  1. This is really, really good. Awesome.


  2. Fareha Lasker says:

    Thank you Anka! Without this I was about to get a night light in the hope of modulating ‘the belly’!

  3. lornapowell says:

    Despite not being a mouse I can relate to the findings of this study. Having bright lights on late into the night makes you stay up longer and if I consistently eat later in the evening I DEFINATELY put on weight. It’s common sense really, you have less time to burn the calories off. The conclusions also correlate with the “no food after 6pm” rule of thumb you hear so many celebrities throwing around as the reason for their svelte figures. Although I imagine their results are improved by eating nothing before 6pm either…

    • If you eat more, this is absolutley true – but this study was even more weird: The mice that where exposed to light at night didn’t eat more, but just to different times. That is, as if “morning calories” have a different effect than “evening calories”. I wonder, what rule of thumb our celebrities make of this… 😉

  4. Don’t know much about celebs or anyone else but I like the idea of a pitch black night keeping my beer belly in check 🙂 Good work Anka!

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