WHO wants to pass the criteria for a trial in obesity?

Standing on some hospital scales in silence while a researcher respectfully and silently notes a figure in kilograms (thankfully meant nothing to me at all - pounds, shillings, and pence anybody?) I fantasise about hearing the words ‘I’m so sorry Alison but you’re far too slim for our trial’, writes Alison Eden.

Alas, this was not to be - my 40+ inch ‘waist’ measurement was the clincher. (And to think I’d thought all those boned and wired dresses had somehow shrunk in the wardrobe over the decades.) 

Researchers in Exeter are running a trial that comprises diet and exercise. It’s sponsored by Quorn who make a meat substitute called a mycoprotein which may or may not be better than animal protein at helping people who are obese lose weight and form muscle. 

The researchers are based at the ‘Dept of Sport and Health Sciences’ in Exeter. This, alas, did not nudge the clue it really should have about the care these young researchers take with their own strength, health and wellbeing… 

To take part in any trial you must pass criteria that have been specified by the main researcher. In this case, there were tests to check blood pressure, analyse blood samples, review medical history, and on a practical level, establish if would-be participants understood what being on the trial would mean in terms of time commitment and behaviour. The biggest commitment is complying with a very low-calorie restricted diet for a short period.  

My husband and I both passed the criteria to take part (sob!) and weird as this may sound, have discovered that one of the bonding things an older couple can do (parking paid and a small fee provided) is join a research study for people described as ‘healthy volunteers.’ (In our case, of course healthy while carrying around a fair bit of excess baggage!).

There are lots of researchers early on in their careers who are running trials in a wide range of interesting subjects and they often need healthy people to take part. 

So much of our lives involves ticking boxes to confirm we’ve read terms and conditions whether it’s online or in a bank. Whenever we have an operation or investigation as part of normal life, we will be asked to sign a consent form to acknowledge we’ve read and understood what’s about to happen to us. 

But how many of us read every word? Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional cringe-factor of having a thigh muscle biopsy carried out surrounded by sporty scientists. 

As I lay out flat on a hospital bed was it the fear of impending pain or discomfort that tortured me? No. Was it the fact that I had not been allowed to eat for over 10 hours and was having intense olfactory visions of a bacon roll? No. It was the ignominy of realising that in the information about how to prepare for this biopsy, they had not included the advice to have a full leg wax and a pedicure.  

Neither had they warned against the consequences of seeing my stretched-out body, with its white socks, hairy bare legs and matronly knickers. Luckily my biopsy was expertly executed without pain and the only negative impact I endured was hurt pride. 

On the positive side, as I never want to resemble a hairy, upturned woodlouse again, I think I just might comply with the study diet!