Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 30, 2012)
With health care and public initiatives such as NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large soft drinks, obesity has been in the news more than ever. HBO examines the subject via a 2012 documentary called The Weight of the Nation.
The program splits into four parts: “Consequences” (1:08:43), “Choices” (1:12:49), “Children in Crisis” (1:07:31) and “Challenges” (1:08:03). Across these, we hear from a variety of physicians, politicians, folks who influence public policy, researchers and overweight Americans. (Normally I like to list the names and titles of all the participants, but with literally dozens of on-screen interviewees across nearly five hours, this became absurdly unwieldy.)
“Consequences” looks at all the health issues that result from obesity and also how they affect society as a whole. “Choices” examines methods to lose weight and control body size, while “Crisis” provides a focus on youngsters and their particular obesity concerns. Finally, “Challenges” follows the history of food availability in human culture and how this has affected our intake and weight as well as connected issues.
We all have experiences with obesity – whether in ourselves or friends/family – and we all have opinions about causes/solutions. I come at the topic from the POV of the Former Fatty. No, I was never super-huge, but I was a chubby kid, a chubby teen, and a chubby adult until 32, when I was around my peak at 220 pounds. That left me with a BMI of 29.8, which is as high as you can go in the “Overweight” range before you enter “Obese” at 30.0.
Back in the summer of 1999, I started to lose weight and after a year, I’d knocked off more than 50 pounds. Today I find myself in the position of probably being too thin; I’m around 155 pounds, which sets my BWI at 21.
How did I do this? I ate less, I ate better, I exercised more – and I watched my caloric intake like a formerly fat hawk. I won’t claim that this approach will work for everyone and that it’s flawless, but I suspect that it would be successful for the vast majority of overweight people.
You won’t hear much about this side of things across the nearly five hours of Weight. Oh, the documentary occasionally nods in the direction of personal responsibility – mostly during “Choices” – but the individual’s commitment to health remains on the sideline.
Instead, Weight batters us with all the reasons the filmmakers believe Americans have almost literally been forced to become fat. Based on this documentary, you might come away with the impression that the market makes it next to impossible to be healthy. We can’t do it ourselves, it tells us – we need other authorities to force us to control ourselves.
This is utter bollocks, and it reaches its nadir in “Crisis”. That episode devotes virtually its entire running time to criticism of advertisers and others who try to sell their goods to kids. All the while, the show almost entirely ignores the folks most responsible for health and welfare of youngsters: the parents.
Weight leaves one with a feeling of helplessness, which I think is bizarre. Let’s be frank: if you don’t want to be fat, you can affect that change in yourself. Barring some external medical issue, the individual can lose weight and be healthy.
All the documentary’s attempts to convince us that the marketplace “forces” people to eat crap don’t work. Just because the stores, restaurants and advertisers put lots of unhealthy/high-calorie food in front of you doesn’t mean you have to eat it.
Like I said, I’ve been there. I spent my whole life overweight and became convinced I couldn’t become thinner. Oh, I’d lose some pounds for a while, but they’d come back pretty quickly. Only when I got serious about the issue did I lose – and keep off – all the weight.
According to Weight, I shouldn’t have been able to do this. I still go to fast food restaurants. I still eat candy and cookies and ice cream. I still imbibe soft drinks. I just watch how much of these I eat/drink.
Amazing, huh? I don’t want to sound snarky and smug, but the tone of Weight really irritates me, as it simply puts far too little responsibility on the individual. It tells us about the problem in detail and gets into many solutions – almost none of which connect to “eat less and exercise more”.
That “Crisis” episode really does come across as the most shrill of the bunch. It acts as though junk food advertised to kids is a new concept, even though I remember very well how actively we kids were sold sugary cereals and other productions in the 1970s. The program gripes about how much time kids spend in front of the TV and seems to think that we didn’t have that option 40 years ago. It constantly complains about how advertisers “force” kids into crap foods and how these kids have no apparent options other than to sit at home and soak in these promotions.
Again, what about the parents? If they don’t want their kids to eat sugary cereals, don’t buy them. If they don’t want their kids to watch so much TV and play so many video games, don’t let them.
But we don’t hear those attitudes in Weight. We’re just battered by its one-sided take on the subject which make it exist as more of a political screed than an objective take on the issues.
On top of these other issues, Weight is ridiculously long. We get nothing one might call revelatory here; in essence, the series tells us people are getting fatter, this is bad, and it needs to change. This would work fine for a one-hour program, but do we really need almost five hours on the topic? (And that doesn’t count the more than four hours of additional material on this set’s bonus disc – oy!)
Look, I don’t want to minimize the subject. Obviously obesity has become a significant problem, and a variety of changes need to occur to affect this. Weight does contain some good ideas – and it spotlights concerns such as the relative unavailability of healthy options in many poorer communities o but it berates us so often across its extreme running time that it loses effectiveness. We would’ve been better served by a much shorter and much less abrasive/one-sided view of the topic.