There has been much to-do lately about an HBO documentary, “The Weight of the Nation”. It’s an ‘exploration’ of the American ‘obesity crisis’. It’s title, whether intentional or not, is an homage to the technically groundbreaking silent film “Birth of a Nation”, which presented the KKK as the solution to the American ‘crisis’ of autonomous (and thus dangerous) black people. In the HBO production, fat has become the enemy that is endangering/destroying the social body of American … and I don’t see how this can possibly do anything but cast fat people as walking symbols of poor health and representatives of the ‘epidemic’ infecting the country.
Some people liked the documentary, seeing the film not as an unknowing attack on the fat body, but as a warning that “this epidemic of preventable disease won’t be solved by invoking the mantra of personal responsibility and waiting for the food industry to put healthy people before healthy profits. It would take a public/private partnership of unprecedented proportions to get us back on track” as a result of the fact that “We’ve tolerated–even cultivated–a food culture that’s literally toxic. And we’ve engineered exercise right out of our lives.”
While I agree that making it so hard for schools to offer physical education and time to play (thank you funding cuts and testing-not-teaching mandates) and subsidizing grain, but not organic vegetables, adds to an American HEALTH issue, I cannot escape the irritation that fat is portrayed as an undisputed marker of ill health and is, all by itself, deadly. Because that is bullshit.
For one thing, being “fat” is NOT dangerous just by itself. As I have pointed out before, people are considered ‘obese’, and thus at serious health risk, when they hit 30 BMI, even though the correlation between health and weight doesn’t look bad until you hit 40 BMI; the diet industry, not the American Medical Association, came up with 30 BMI as the marker for naughty fat. The real culprit undermining health is a sedentary lifestyle. Fat people who exercise are as healthy as thin people who exercise, and thin sedentary people are as sick as any sedentary lard ass.
Furthermore, just eating veggies and running around make make you lose weight in the short term, but there is a REASON 95-98% of dieters have regained their lost weight (plus some) by five years. Your body is genetically prone to storing extra weight, or it is not. Obesity researcher Dr. Rudy Leibel noted one study which showed, “ the average weight gain in the cohort (all slim people) after eating 5000 calories a day and not exercising, was only 6-11 lbs! After the experiment, they all easily went back to their normal weight without “doing anything”. This tended to suggest that the affinity to gain weight as well as the affinity to eat when no longer “hungry” may be genetic also.”
Let us not forget that non-genetic factors, like stress, poverty, ethnicity, sleep deprivation, and being a sexual/physical/emotional abuse survivor all increase your chances of being overweight of obese. Shall we eradicate these people to restore national health, then?
Ignorance of these basic facts is why you read heartbreaking articles about people who, AS HAS BEEN PROVEN WILL HAPPEN MORE THAN 95% OF THE TIME, lose weight and then gain more back, blame themselves, shame themselves, then quotes a few doctors about how common this is, trumpets one study that shows exercise keeps lost weight off for a year (but no word on 5 years, huh?), and ends with the by saying, “With so many drawbacks, you might wonder if you’d be better off just accepting your belly rolls. But the perils of being overweight still outweigh the risks of yo-yoing. So how do you quit the cycle for good? Despite what you read in the tabloids, it is possible”, which is completely counter to the facts given about weight gain an the dangers of yo-yo dieting by physicians who were interviewed in the article itself! Multiple studies have shown yo-yo dieting wrecks your health. The few studies saying yo-yo diets weren’t dangerous were done on ANIMALS in lab conditions, not people. ARGH!!
I’m not the only one to have noticed that “The Weight of the Nation” is more likely to inspire fear and loathing of fat people, than anything else. Fat people already have plenty of people who despise them, so adding to that dogpile of hate with incomplete facts was really not something HBO really needed to do … because it is NEVER a good idea when one group of people are portrayed in popular culture as being a diseased blight on the larger social body.