May 3 2012

A New Obesity Documentary Reveals Nothing New

Julie Gunlock

National Review Online

On May 14, HBO will debut a new documentary called Weight of the Nation, which was produced in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control. While I haven’t yet seen it, it’s clear from the trailer that HBO produced this documentary to deliver the same message we’ve all heard before: We’re all too fat, and we’re going to die huge, miserable, unemployed, and in pain.

HBO, bring back those lighthearted favorites about casual sex and mass murder, please!

The trailer is jam-packed with the type of fear-based hyperbole commonly used by the food nannies. Statements such as “obesity is the biggest threat to the health, welfare, and future of this country,” and “it’s not only health; it’s about the survival and well-being of the United States as a nation” abound. Expect a super-sized helping of doomsday claims such as “the weight of the nation is out of control,” and warnings that unless we get this “epidemic” under control “we’re going to have an abundance of chronic disease.” In case you’re running to the fridge and missed the point, the trailer ends with a woman sternly declaring that “obesity will crush the United States into oblivion.”

Goodness, it’s starting to sound like a Michael Bay action movie!

Another pre-debut giveaway is an article in today’s Huffington Post penned by the documentary’s executive producer, John Hoffman, who is also vice president of HBO Documentary Films. Hoffman starts off sounding reasonable, saying he “used to think that overweight people simply needed to eat less and move more,” but starts to go off the rails when he says he came to “understand that we have less control over our waistlines than we think. In fact, many of the choices we make are influenced by forces we have not fully understood until now.”

Ah, yes, “influenced by forces.”

What forces? The Force? That one? The one that Luke Skywalker channeled to defeat the evil Darth Vader? The one Yoda taught us all about in the second (and best) movie in the Star Wars trilogy? Is Hoffman talking about that Force?

No. He’s talking about another force — a darker, more evil force. He’s referring to the force of the food industry that makes you do things you don’t want to do, such as eat delicious food, drink sugary beverages, and sometimes even consume booze.

But Hoffman really starts to veer away from reality a paragraph or two later, when in a creepy and with a Matrix-level of paranoia, he writes: “Big decisions that have been made in this country by industry, agriculture and government are having an oversized impact on the little decisions and actions we take in our daily lives. They are dictating what we eat when we’re hungry and how long we sit at our desks, in our cars, or on our couches.”

Um, okay, Mr. Hoffman. What else is your friend Harvey telling you about those unseen forces controlling your life?

Finally, Hoffman’s medication must kick in, and he gets to the so-called facts. He writes that more than two-thirds of adults age 20 and over in America are overweight or obese, and nearly one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Of course, he doesn’t mention that the CDC’s own numbers on obesity have shown that the rates of obesity have leveled off. In other words, calm down. It seems the nation has stabilized and obesity may even be on a downward trajectory.

But Hoffman goes on to repeat the old canard that obesity-related health-care costs nearly $150 billion annually and that the obese costs an average of $1,400 more a year to care for. Yeah, that’s a popular lie, but the truth is, food nannies and activists have trouble squaring their mantra that those who suffer from obesity will die because of their unhealthy lifestyle, while simultaneously screeching on about their high health-care bills. The truth is obvious: You don’t cost a dime when you’re dead.

Hoffman also repeats another outdated factoid that obesity contributes to five of the ten leading causes of death in America. Yet the truth is that there’s a body of research that shows being overweight or even obese isn’t actually the problem; it’s inactivity. In fact, several recent studies have shown that being “fit and fat” is better in terms of mortality rate than being thin and unfit.

Moving on to school lunches, Hoffman says 94 percent of American schools fail to meet federal standards for fat and saturated fat in school lunches. Only 94 percent? That’s too bad. We should be striving for 100 percent non-compliance. Why does Hoffman consider “federal standards” the gold standard? Does he know those standards allow chicken nuggets, french fries, pizza for breakfast, and gray green beans? I hardly think we should be looking to the federal government for guidance on what we serve our kids. How about Hoffman exhibit a little of that free thought for which artists are so famous and consider that government might be the problem, not the solution, to the school-lunch issue.

Hoffman concludes predictably, patronizingly explaining that this is all too hard for we addled parents to figure out. He quotes famed food nanny Kelly Brownell, who calls food marketing (television advertisements) “pernicious and powerful” and declares that:

Marketing foods and drinks that are the worst for us makes it harder for parents and others committed to keeping our families healthy. Yet, when profit margins for these high-calorie, high-sugar, and high-fat products are vastly wider than those of healthier foods, they consume the most advertising space on TV, radio, print or online.

It’s surprising that Hoffman, who works in the television industry, isn’t aware of a handy-dandy button that’s placed on every television. It’s called the off button. I use it all the time to “regulate” my children’s consumption of television (and food commercials).

A bold prediction: We’re not going to see anything new during this documentary. The food nannies have powerful friends in Congress, more than willing partners within federal regulatory agencies and now a whole group of talented movie executives within the entertainment industry. These separate groups have colluded to send a message to Americans: You’re feeble, you’re dumb, and you’re too busy and addled to take care of your own health. More importantly, you simply can’t be trusted to feed your kids nutritious food. As such, you should be encouraged to hand these difficult tasks over to your benevolent government minders who know better.

I look forward to watching this documentary. I’ll watch it with an open mind . . . and a bag of potato chips and a nice cold soda.

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