Obese Monkeys Extraordinarily Depressing

There are more rhesus monkeys than you'd think out there getting fat. Getting really fat. And it's not their fault; it's because they're being used as research subjects in studies about obesity and diabetes. At the Oregon National Primate Research Center, scientists are keeping a colony of rhesus monkeys in individual cages and giving them all the fatty food they want. Not to get all PETA on this, but come on. Just try to look at this slideshow and not grow despondent.

In the Oregon studies, the monkeys are kept in isolation. This is to mimic a stereotypical couch-potato lifestyle (the effects of which the researchers are trying to study). Thing is - isn't it just sort of logical that if you give the monkeys fattening food in endless quantities and confine them so they can't exercise, they will become obese and suffer from obesity-related health problems? How necessary is this?

Of course it's important for science to understand the effects of obesity on the body, brain, etc. But in this particular study, some of the controls seem needlessly cruel (i.e. keeping them in individual cages). Not all studies are like that; another one cited in the article had the monkeys paired up, because "they are happier that way."

As one doctor put it, "Doing primate studies is about as difficult as doing human studies from an ethical standpoint." It's a real conundrum -- we need the results, but want to get them humanely. Is it impossible to do both?

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Part of it, I think, is just that there's something uncomfortably human about primates. They're closer to us than rats and mice, and it's difficult not to empathize with them. The looks on the faces of these caged fat monkeys...man. Day ruiner.

Although, maybe not in China. There, they have "colonies of thousands of them." Yeesh.

[rgray@villagevoice.com] [@_rosiegray]


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