05/08/2008 04:40 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Chunky Monkeys as Metaphor for Life

My in-laws have two pugs. This is what a healthy pug looks like. However, this is what the poor pugs resemble. They are morbidly obese. I kid you not, the sheer size and girth of them causes double takes that make you doubt their very existence.

But Moses and Duke are just two of the nearly 40 percent of dogs nationwide who are obese -- a number that, not surprisingly, mirrors the obesity rate among humans. After all, someone is feeding those buggers extra sushi rice and pizza crusts.

Now, I'm saddened to say that chubby puppies are no longer alone when it comes to the scourge of animal kingdom obesity. In one Japanese zoo, approximately 50 Macaca mulatta monkeys have been overfed so much crap by tourists that, at three times their normal size (63 pounds vs. a healthy 20), they can barely move around their habitat.

Should this surprise us? Probably not. A quick Google search of the words "fat pet" turn up everything from an article titled "Love is Not Spelled 'T-R-E-A-T' to the official website for Slentrol, Pfizer Inc.'s drug for poundy pooches. Also, the occasional Garfield cartoon. (Speaking of corpulent cats, the Lodi, Calif. News-Sentinel recently profiled the saga of Smokey, an 18-pound tomcat embarking on a diet with help from his owner Laura Bolewine because his obesity has actually brought on a case of diabetes -- requiring daily insulin shots.)

But even though the site of these portly monkeys may make you chuckle a bit at first, it truly is the point of abusive. These animals look miserable, unnatural and flat-out unhealthy. It is emblematic of the unbelievably high number of eating disorders in this country -- from obesity to anorexia and all of the distorted eating patterns in between. It seems no one is immune...not even Macaca monkeys. We humans come into this world as hungry babies, eating when our stomach and brain tell us to and stopping when we're full. Just watch a little kid push his spaghetti away, proclaiming, "No more." But as we get older and food becomes intermingled with emotions, we eat past the point of fullness to make ourselves feel safe, or to stuff down anger or hurt, or skip meals to make ourselves feel more beautiful and in control.

Do I think these monkeys are chowing down on bananas to erase some traumatic experience in their pasts? Of course not. (Though when I saw these pictures of gorillas captured on film for the first time mating face-to-face, I was absolutely and unequivocally blown away and couldn't help but believe they were actually feeling of the most human of emotions). But these new pics of the overweight apes makes me think -- if it weren't for humans shoving food down their throats, if zoo visitors weren't pelting them with candy and caramel corn and whatever else they assume the animals might like -- these guys would be happy and healthy. They've become obese via humans and our messed up relationship with food.

This reminds me of a well-known study done on rhesus monkeys involving calorie restriction. Richard Weindruch, a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (Go Badgers!), has studied calorie restriction in mice and primates for more than 33 years. His research has shown that dramatic overall calorie restriction (30-40% a day) yields intense physical results in terms of increased lifespan, reduced rates of cancer, heart disease and other diseases. Check out this photo for evidence. The rhesus monkey on the left is 25 years old and eats a calorie restricted diet. The guy on the right? He's only one year older but eats a normal diet.

For now, Japanese zoo officials have been forced to put their monkeys on a strict diet. A necessary measure considering what has happened, but really -- whoever thought monkeys would be dieting? Then again, we live in a nation where 46% of 9-11 year-olds are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets, and 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
Dieting monkeys are simply the next rung on the evolutionary ladder of obesity.

PS Click here to vote on your feelings about the chunky monkeys.