The Weight of the Nation

I started watching the HBO/NIH series “The Weight of the Nation” expecting to absolutely hate it. The interviews I’d heard about it on NPR have repeated fallacies about fat that always get me going.

To win, we have to lose? Really, HBO?

To win, we have to lose? Really, HBO?

First is the notion that the problem is based in people who don’t exercise enough for their portion sizes. While they did mention that the fact that lots of the “food” out there is junk, they keep saying the calories are the problem, that all calories are the same, and that if we could just get people to eat smaller portions and exercise more they’d be thin. Yes, it’s good to be active. But my experience is that you don’t have to count calories if you are eating real food. Counting calories and exercising doesn’t guarantee weight loss, either.

Second is this talk of fat being the CAUSE of all the health problems which are CORRELATED with obesity. Correlation does not equal causation! While fat may, in the end, compound some people’s health issues, it isn’t automatically the root cause, and you don’t have to be fat to have health problems.

The promos also talked about how one solution might be the government stepping in with taxation like they did with cigarettes, to drive people’s behavior in “healthier” directions.

Right… the government that subsidizes crap like HFCS & wheat, the government that thinks CAFO meat is safer than the meat I grow in my backyard, the government that thinks raw milk is a greater risk to my health than pasteurized, sugary chocolate milk in BPA lined boxes, the government that came up with the food pyramid & told us all that fat was the cause of heart disease… this government is going to direct us all toward great health choices through taxation?

Then, I went to the website and saw their tag line: To win, we have to lose. Then I noticed the little stat ticker on the bottom throws up “facts” about how much obesity costs employers. The big point they are making is that our economic success as a nation depends on fat people losing weight.

So this is what I was thinking when I started watching the series: It’s framed all wrong. When we go looking for solutions to the wrong problem, we’ll probably get the wrong solutions.

This focus on obesity as our collective problem seems like a huge missed opportunity to me, at the expense of people who happen to be fat. Even if they choose to address root causes of ill health in our society, they’ve set us up to measure our success or failure in pounds and inches, and to put that success or failure on the shoulders of those whose size is deemed unacceptable.

While I was disappointed in the sensationalism and misinformation in the promos, I decided to force myself to watch. Despite some major problems, I was pleasantly surprised by the series in some ways. Coming up, my review of Part One: Consequences.

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2 comments to The Weight of the Nation

  • I don’t get HBO, so watching this would not be an option for me for a while. But hearing this, I don’t think I want to. Was lamenting recently that despite all the talk in the mainstream media now about how the standard American diet may not be as good as it’s shaped up to be, the standard American weight loss plan (which also fails constantly) is still touted as the right answer.

    • We don’t have HBO either. The whole thing is available online from the link above. I agree, though, the standard American weight loss plan fails and is still touted as some sort of panacea when it clearly doesn’t work! The last episode starts to address the real issues with our food supply, but the calories in/calories out/low fat lies pervade the series, unfortunately.

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