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The Weight of the Nation

Just a quick, last minute PSA in case you haven’t heard…

Tonight is the premiere of a new HBO documentary called The Weight of the Nation. This four-part documentary is a collaboration between HBO and the Institute of Medicine that basically serves to give Americans a wake up call about the dire consequences of this obesity epidemic we find ourselves facing.

You can watch the trailer below (or click here if the embedded video doesn’t work):


Tonight’s show is actually two parts – the first one looking at the consequences of the obesity epidemic and the second highlighting the science around how to lose weight, maintain it, and prevent weight loss. Parts 3 & 4 will air on May 15th.

Don’t worry, you don’t need HBO to watch the series. HBO will be streaming all four parts of the documentary here.

For more information, please click here.


If you watch, let me know what you think! Chances are I’ll be blogging about it at some point…

13 Responses to The Weight of the Nation

  1. Um, is it just me, or does this look absolutely awful? “Obesity” is the biggest threat? “Obesity” will cause an abundance of chronic disease? “Obesity” will crush the United States? Not quite.

    Obesity itself will do none of those things. Unhealthy behaviors will cause the problems they’re talking about (causing chronic disease, shortening lifespans, etc.), sure. But some of the healthy people who eat well and exercise will still be obese no matter what, and some of the unhealthy people who are sedentary and eat crap will still be thin no matter what. And telling people that “obesity” is the problem isn’t going to help ANYONE’S health, because unhealthy thin people will think they’re just fine, and healthy fat people will try extreme dieting to become thin. And that will just make those previously healthy fat people become malnourished and (irony of ironies) unhealthy.

    I’m not contesting the fact that we have serious health problems in this country. Educating people about exercise and healthy eating is a great thing. Making healthy food and exercise accessible to everyone, even the poor, would be an even better thing. But attacking fat people based on the size and shape of their bodies is no better than playground bullying.

    • Well written. I could not agree more : )

    • Melissa – I completely understand what you’re saying, and perhaps there could be a more sensitive way to define the issue. But the purpose of the documentary is not to attack anyone. Obesity is about more than the size and shape of someone’s body – it’s based on a certain Body Mass Index and is unfortunately associated with many debilitating chronic conditions. Research has shown that it is a gateway to diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, etc…which can then lead to death. Obesity is actually a leading cause of preventable death in the US (because for the majority of people, it is preventable). This is not to say that there can’t be unhealthy people who are thin, or healthy people who are technically overweight. You are absolutely right. But when you look at our nation as a whole, we have become increasingly overweight and unhealthy. Our lifestyles and environments have created an epidemic.

      I realize weight is a touchy, personal subject. And of course, it is not the only measure of a person’s health. But I do believe that Americans in general need a wake up call about our way of life. The environments that we live and work in are not very supportive of health. And the fact that this is the first generation of children who are predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents is a very scary thing.

      Anyway, if you do end up watching it, I would be very interested to hear what you think. I wonder if it would change your perspective at all…or if you would still think that it is awful.

      • The great Kate Harding can answer your question much better than I can: http://kateharding.net/faq/but-dont-you-realize-fat-is-unhealthy/

        Even that barely scratches the surface, of course. But it answers a few of your questions. (If you still have more after reading it, I’d be happy to answer them.) Just be careful. Many of the things in your comment aren’t actually true.

        • Again, this isn’t about individually shaming anyone or encouraging people to go on diets. I also do not believe that diets are effective. The country needs large policy and environmental changes in order to make it easier for people to live healthier lives – instead of the current state, which is an over-abundance of environments that make it really hard to access healthy food/get enough physical activity.

          I’m not trying to pick a fight, but I am curious about which parts of my comment you think aren’t true. This is something I do/research for a living, so I don’t make any statements lightly (just wanted to make sure that was clear).

          • I agree 100% with all of that. Large policy and environmental changes are necessary to help people live healthier lives. So…that said, what’s the point of bringing weight into the discussion at all? Yes, it would be wonderful if more people in our country could be healthier, with access to nutritious foods and realistic exercise options. But since none of that is likely to lead to large-scale weight loss, and since intentional efforts at weight loss are more likely to decrease health than to increase it, then why are we talking about weight at all? It’s only peripherally related.

            I don’t want to get into a fight either, I love your blog, and I absolutely respect what you do! Let’s downgrade what I said from “untrue” to “misleading.” For example, you said that obesity is “associated” with many chronic conditions. In context, that statement is misleading because it sounds almost like you’re implying that obesity is a major cause of those chronic conditions. But, of course, correlation does not equal causation. Once you control for situations like a) the causation being reversed, i.e. the chronic condition causing the obesity, b) both the obesity and the health problem being caused by a third, outside factor, and c) the obesity and the health problem being unrelated, and the correlation mere coincidence, then the association becomes a lot less compelling. Then, after that, you also need to take into account the fact that fat people receive FAR inferior health care, because doctors are subject to the same prejudices as the rest of us. It’s way more common than you probably realize for serious health problems to go unaddressed by doctors who assume that weight loss will be a cure-all, and further investigation is unnecessary. (I’m dead serious. Some doctors will even go so far as refusing to see a patient until they’ve lost weight.) It’s also common for fat people to put off going to the doctor much longer than thin people, because they know that they’ll be faced with a barrage of hatred and humiliation when they get there. Even once the fat person gets to the doctor, and the doctor agrees to see them and actually listen to the symptoms, fat people are often misdiagnosed. For example, it’s actually pretty common for some doctors to assume that a fat person is lying if that person says they eat healthy and exercise. Others will assume that the fat person has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc. without testing for those things. And diagnoses based on assumptions are less accurate than diagnoses based on realities. And this often results in the real problem continuing to go untreated, which leads to even more health problems. Another reason that it’s difficult for fat people to get good health care is that many insurance companies will actually restrict benefits for people over a certain BMI. In extreme cases, they’ll flat-out refuse to insure fat people. So that’s all a very long way of saying that the inferior health care fat people receive also needs to be factored into the correlation between obesity and disease. ‘Cause, well, there’s an actual causal connection between inferior health care and disease. (Read these people’s stories: http://fathealth.wordpress.com/. You will be horrified.) Furthermore, another thing that is provably responsible for a myriad of health problems is stress. And I imagine there are few things more stressful than being subjected to constant hatred and bullying the way fat people have been their whole lives. When you take all those realities into account, the correlation between obesity and health problems becomes even less convincing.
            I’m tired and this is getting super long, so I’ll wrap it up, but do keep in mind that all this is just barely scratching the surface. It all comes down to…even in those cases, rare as they are, where obesity actually does cause a major health problem, it’s still useless to talk about obesity in these terms. Because the thing you said about obesity being preventable for most people just isn’t true. No scientific study has ever been able to show long-term weight loss is possible for more then 5% of people. Many people will lose weight and then gain it all back (usually plus some more) within five years.

          • Since I also work in public health, and watched the documentary in its entirety, I don’t think the point at all was to convey the message that “people need to lose weight and diet.” Overall the message I received is “What can we do to stop this epidemic?” What CAN we do to have our children live as long as us, or our parents? I am only chiming into your thread because I see the term obesity sort of interchanged with overweight — and they are not quite the same, not by a long shot. The long term health ramifications of obese and super obese have been proven in many peer reviewed, scientific publications. In the documentary they went over a study that compared heart sizes in those who were obese/not obese in individuals that died from causes unrelated to weight. The differences were staggering.

            The documentary also discussed doing exactly what (Melissa) said is necessary, making healthy food and things like parks accessible to all. But, what it also pointed out is that the disparity in class and obesity rates is closing. Therefore, we have a national crisis.

            Public Health is not about shaming anyone. We serve everyone, without discrimination and we do it for less pay than our private sector counterparts. It’s about preventing this in future generataions. It’s about stopping bad habits. It’s about getting our food supply back to basics. It’s about educating people that don’t understand that a McDonald’s meal has an entire days salt, fat, and calories. So, overall I thought the documentary was good, but of course I’m probably biased given my background.

  2. Very interesting… I heard about this. We don’t have HBO but good to know we can still see it another way.
    Tia @ Arkansas Runner Mom´s last post ..A Mommy Break AND a Happy Mother’s Day!

  3. Can’t wait to watch this – had no idea about this series. Thanks for giving me a heads up. I saw an 8 year old in the peds clinic last year who weighed as much as me. On her way to diabetes. So sad.
    Meggie´s last post ..How We Get Our Pats On The Back

  4. I’ll definitely be watching this! (Online…) We had a three year old on my unit a couple weeks ago who weighed something like 80 pounds and would cry when his dad couldn’t feed him crackers fast enough. ????
    Susan´s last post ..i’m not calling it a comeback

  5. Emily,
    If there are peer-reviewed studies out there that show obesity increasing health problems or mortality irrespective of healthy habits, I’d love to read them. Can you tell me where to find some of them? All the studies I’ve seen show that healthy habits (like eating healthfully and exercising) mitigate the problems correlated with obesity.

  6. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz answer back as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. thank you

  7. First off I want to say great blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing. I’ve had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out. I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Appreciate it!

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