When I first heard that HBO was doing a special four-part series on our America’s obesity epidemic, I was borderline ecstatic. HBO is known for doing things well, any Hard Knocks or 24/7 fans out there? At the very least I was expecting cutting edge investigative reporting to help expose the dangers of our Standard American Diet (SAD). Boy was I disappointed.
I have to write a WARNING first and foremost. Most people watch these documentaries or shows and get caught up in the professionalism in which they are produced and get hypnotized by the scary statistics and opinions of doctors. Always be skeptical of everything you read, and never take anything as gospel without doing further research.
Almost as scary as the obesity epidemic itself is this regurgitation of incorrect and misleading nutritional advice. While I have to imagine it was HBO’s original intent to bring some groundbreaking information to the public, they ended up rehashing the same (wrong)advice we’ve been hearing for decades.
Open up baby birds because I’m about to regurgitate all the good, bad, and ugly of “The Weight of The Nation.” It’s the longest post I’ve ever written, but it will save you the entire day you could have spent on HBO.com watching all these videos and sifting through the resources.
This IS the quote that sums up our “fight” against obesity. Although I applaud this documentary for bringing obesity to the forefront of conversation, they provided very little information in terms of how to fight this problem.
The documentary series is broken down into four parts. The parts lack structure and definitely lack a call to action.
It wasn’t but a couple minutes into Part 1 “Consequences”, before the tone was set for how this film would play out. An African-American woman talks about how she just learned she’s borderline diabetes, and how her doctor prescribed her to “go brown”, “eat more wheat pasta, wheat bread, that kinda thing”, leaving behind refined white grains and flour.
Knowing what AWFUL advice that is, I had a giggle to myself, a little LOL if you will. But then sh*t quickly got real for me. Wait, they aren’t going to show the bad side of wheat in this, are they? They are just going to leave it at that? People are watching this. People watching this and eating wheat right now!
The silver lining in this documentary was the frightening statistics they shared with America. A brutal truth we must hear no doubt.
Even though they conveniently grouped overweight and obese people together to make the statistics seem worse than they actually are; The charts are still bad, very very bad.
You have to check out the obesity charts HERE from 1960-2010 that the film displayed.
The financial toll of obesity is just as scary. HBO shared this fun fact; Obesity costs us $150 BILLION a year. Half of that is paid for by taxpayers’ money through Medicare and Medicaid. So if you didn’t think obesity affected you, think again, because we all pay the price of Obesity.
So if you were to make a documentary about obesity who would you attack first? (Seriously I want to know by your comments below.) For me, it’s the government organizations like the USDA and the FDA. For HBO, its Suzanne Somers and the thigh master.
In part 2 “Choices”, HBO goes after the diet gimmicks that are just playing society for billions of dollars each year. As quoted from the film, “The diet industry has no reason to solve the problem, solving the problem puts them out of business.”
It’s funny how this was said about diet gurus, but no one opened their mouth about the drug companies or about the doctors recommending a diet of whole grains washed down with blood sugar pills, who rely on this exact principle. Why CURE a problem when you can PATCH it? Solving a problem ends your relationship with that customer; patching a problem makes sure they keep coming back.
The obesity problem is most scary when we look at diabetes and obesity in our children, and this is what Part 3 “Children in Crisis” tried to examine. When I see these young children it reminds me exactly why I have this blog. I have a goal to help a million people get healthy, but I especially want to help our kids.
Part 3 rightfully goes after the marketing to children. They mention that having a TV in the bedroom correlates with overweight children, but on a side note, there is hardly any mention for accountability of how the TV got there in the first place. Does it not start and end with the parents?
The parents claim victim a lot in this documentary. Calling the advertising to children “pretty toxic” and acting like the bad food just magically ends up in their pantries.
The parents also seem to have a very skewed perception of their kid’s lunches. The film points out a USDA study that said 88.9% of parents believed their kid’s school cafeteria lunches were healthy. Another survey found that 94% of school lunches fail to meet nutritional guidelines (and these are crappy guidelines at that).
One school principal from Madison, Wisconsin interviewed in the documentary actually admitted that he could no longer eat the school lunches at his own school. “If I eat it consistently, I gain weight,” he said.
I chuckled for a moment at the principal’s remarks, but nothing was as laughable as the formation of a Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative formed by all the big food companies in 2006. They took it upon themselves to “self regulate” their own advertising and only advertise “better for you” foods.
I decided to check-in on the CFBAI online and see what kind of progress they were making in their advertising. They have a newly released (May 2012) Whole Grains Fact Sheet. No surprise that this fact sheet is a COMPLETE JOKE!
This documentary almost saved itself in Part 4 “Challenges”. Part 4 began so well; talking about evolution and how are bodies evolved. Also pointing out how an industrial food system has taken over and how everything is processed. And just when they had their Oscar winning moment in their grasp, they totally blew it by segwaying into how we don’t walk anymore and we drive everywhere. I was shocked! They had the argument for evolutionary eating (aka the Paleo diet) on the tips of their tongues and they abruptly skipped over to a scene of traffic jams!
I found this to be a recurring theme in this documentary and it was rather frustrating. Every time they were about to really drive home a point, they skipped to a scene with hardly any relevance. And they did this within the different parts several times, making you forget what the theme of the part was even about in the first place. It was almost like they were afraid to take any sides or show too much of one opinion at one time. I was expecting a little more investigative reporting and a little less lip service.
One of the points of this documentary was to drive a little fear into the average American. They constantly threw together statistics that were scary but really had nothing to show in terms of the WHY. Had I gone into this documentary as an obese person, I might have finished it with an empty pizza box and empty ice cream carton. It was scary, it was depressing, but it taught me very little in terms of HOW TO CHANGE.
In the last part they show 7 different charts all increasing exponentially together. They want to shock you. They want you to think CORRELATION means CAUSATION, which is hardly ever the case.
Here is what the 7 charts represented:
Added sugar in food supply
Added fats in food supply
U.S. Corn production
U.S. residents living in suburbs
They all went up together at alarming rates, leading you to believe they must be related or one must cause the other.
What about sales of Britney Spears’ albums? What about the rise of Sport Utility Vehicles? Can’t that tell us WHY WE ARE FAT?!?!
The last section of the fourth part FINALLY gave some hope and laid out some realistic action plans. They weren’t so much action plans in the film, but I want to lay them out here as so.
- Uncle Sam does not subsidize salads. They subsidize our most UN-Healthy foods coming from corn, soy and refined grains. What is made cheap on the front-end (cheaper prices for high calorie foods), is devastating us financially on the back end (medical costs of health problems).
- The big agriculture and food companies have strong lobbyist voices in Washington, but our voices need to be louder. Washington needs to support healthy food and stop supporting these harmful commodities.
- The local food movement is gaining momentum and it’s up to us to support it. Right now in the U.S., there aren’t even enough fruits and veggies produced to even meet the USDA’s daily recommended intake for each American!
- We spend less on food than ever before, and we spend more on healthcare than ever before. Think about what the McDonald’s Dollar Menu is really costing you!
- Participation is #1. Grab a friend and let’s make change happen together. As a team we can make improvements in our own lives as well as spreading positive change to others. Participating in the Superhuman50 is a great way to start!
In addition to the four parts of the documentary, HBO made 12 bonus “shorts” on certain topics. I watched six of the shorts in full and skimmed through the others. Many include clips you’ve already seen in the four parts but the stories are more in-depth. I thoroughly enjoyed the short about “Healthy Foods and Obesity Prevention,” and wished more of the main documentary was like this one.
When will obesity finally deserve the attention that smoking dangers received?
I think it’s time we put obesity on the same exact pedestal we put smoking on in the 1960s. One of the people in the film states nobody thought it was possible to take on big tobacco back then. Just as everyone is afraid to try and take on the big food companies of today. People thought the deep pockets and armies of lobbyists were too big a force to take on, but they gave it a try anyway. The ill effects of smoking were too harmful to ignore anymore.
When do we realize that some foods are more dangerous than smoking?
America told big tobacco that we were going to take back our health once again. It’s time to tell the big Ag and food companies the same.
My brother and I have this blog to create CHANGE. We are not trying to shock, we are not trying to scare, we are trying to SOLVE. We want to make sure everyone we care about knows how to take care of themselves and make sure they live the healthiest and longest life possible.
We want everyone reading this post to pass it on to someone else they care about. Someone that we care about has someone else they care about who is a complete stranger to us. That’s the beauty of this internet thing, we can help care for someone and help them make a complete change and not even directly know them. I know it will be tough to reach a million people directly, but I won’t lose sight of that goal to ultimately affect that many people with positive change.