A serious look at a serious problem – the ever-expanding numbers of Americans who are overweight and obese – arrives on cable TV this evening with CNBC’s documentary One Nation, Overweight. It receives a serious review from Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times, below. (For an alternative, but equally serious, documentary on the topic, disinformation also recommends Killer At Large: Why Obesity Is America’s Greatest Threat.)
There are two Americas.
One is a ruling minority of the healthy few who rely on vegetable gardens, personal trainers and spa getaways to stay fit. The other is the majority of Americans, who are overweight or obese, many of whom risk their own form of assisted living — XXXL clothes, mobility scooters and diabetes treatments that can tip over $50,000 a year.
“One Nation, Overweight” is a CNBC documentary on Tuesday that provides a chilling portrait of a health epidemic that endangers all Americans — without being overly alarmist or too sanguine. And while that doesn’t sound like a big deal, this program stands out in a landscape cluttered with mixed messages and grossly distorted images of reality.
Television used to ignore obesity; now it wallows in it. But the effort to portray the problem — and the solutions — mirrors the way most Americans eat: the most basic facts are larded with sugary entertainment and creamy dollops of instant gratification.
Weight-loss reality shows like “The Biggest Loser” turn obesity into a contest, painting the solitary, often costly struggle against obesity as an exhilarating and financially rewarding team sport. Even do-good missions feed the appetite of viewers accustomed to supersize entertainment. The British chef Jamie Oliver tried to tame the eating habits of an entire town in West Virginia, called the fattest place in America, for his reality show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” Not surprisingly, French fries won.
Meanwhile, series like “Drop Dead Diva” and “Glee,” which recently devoted an episode to a character’s battle with her weight, try to preach self-acceptance by showcasing plus-size heroines who learn to value their physiques. Mostly, they present an unrealistic image of a world populated by whippet-thin women, each of whom has one large friend.
“One Nation, Overweight” isn’t a treat, but it’s rich in salutary warnings. It begins at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the top destinations for growing numbers of patients — some weighing 500 and 600 pounds — who want to have their stomachs stapled. (There were 220,000 such procedures done in 2009, according to CNBC.) The corridors of the bariatric ward, filled with hugely fat people who can barely walk, provide the kind of flesh-and-blood look into the future that was the apocalyptic message of the animated movie “Wall-E.”
And that future may not be so far away. Kenneth E. Thorpe, a health economist at Emory University, discusses a study he published that warns that if current trends continue, the cost of treating weight-related illnesses will double to $344 billion a year by 2018.
The CNBC correspondent Scott Wapner interviews experts who describe obesity as a disease, but the obese people he speaks to rarely blame their size on genetic predisposition or other extenuating circumstances…
[continues in the New York Times]