Count cash, get fatter


Photo courtesy machineslikeus.com

NOTE THIS, ladies. Counting cash can make you fat.

That goes for money-minded men too, though on a lesser scale. So says a study by a team of scientists from Pune city in western India’s Maharashtra state.

The seven-scientist team from six Pune-based institutes had in 2009 taken four months to study 211 people who handle more cash than average people. Their paper was published in the latest edition of Indian science journal Current Science.

The cash counters were divided into two groups – owner cashiers who process their own money and salaried cashiers who handle other people’s money. The cash-handlers selected were from Pune, Nagpur and Mumbai.

The study outcome: Of the 96 owner cashiers, 56.41% men and 75% women were in various stages of obesity, and of the 115 salaried cashiers, 24.05% men and 30.56% women were ‘heavyweights’.

According to Milind G Watve, the study was carried out to find out how non-food ‘reward’ for the brain such as processing money affected body metabolism leading to obesity. Watve is professor of biology at the Pune-based Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.

Watve and his team’s research was sort of an improvement on an experiment Belgian Barbara Briars carried out five years ago. She had demonstrated how hunger affected money related decisions and thoughts about money affected food intake.

The Pune team’s study was titled ‘Money handling and obesity: A test of the exaptation hypothesis.’ Exaptation refers to an evolutionary trait that deviates from its initial purpose to serve another later on.

According to study, a mechanism beyond the commonly perceived causes – food, sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise – of obesity involves the ‘reward center’ in the brain.

“Food has been the main ‘reward’ throughout the history of the evolution of human brain and behavior. But non-food rewards such as money are gaining increasing importance. The reward center that perceived food reward in the hunter-gatherer stage of human evolution is processing money reward in modern life,” the study paper says.

It adds: “For a person who owns the money, cash being handled is a reward, but for a salaried cashier it is little more than pieces of paper though the physical nature of the job is same… What could possibly be happening is that frequent ‘empty’ stimulation of the reward center by money alters its sensitivity. This could interfere with the normal role of the reward center in regulating food intake. The rapidly increasing importance of money and other non-food rewards in modern human life could be one of the factors contributing to the obesity epidemic.”

Watve and his team, however, admit that “we still do not know the relative contributions of different obesogenic factors but non-food rewards blunting the normal regulatory mechanisms of food intake appears to be a strong candidate”.

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About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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