May 16, 2012

"Weight of the Nation," en revista

I have watched, seriatim and in bits and pieces, HBO's multi-part documentary "The Weight of the Nation" about the American obesity epidemic.  It's very poorly done: superficial, misleading, stupid.

As a Neo-Caveman interested in the general subject of weight maintenance, and having read some of the seminal books on the somewhat shopworn (at this point) topic of American fatness, I have come away with the basic impression that the problem is not really all that hard to understand.  HBO uses the Talking Faces approach to the documentary, and we hear from school administrators, doctors, obesity experts from various prestigious universities (Yale, in particular), and, of course, Congressional panels.  The language used to describe the problem is mostly bureaucratic and confusing: we need a "multi-disciplinary, multi-modal" approach to this perplexing problem of fat people that have emerged from the American landscape over the last thirty years like a monster crop of oversized pumpkins ripening in October.

Meanwhile, the documentary shows many clips of kids zonked out in an easy chair pushing buttons on the remote controllers of World At War and many other video games, hear from school administrators who lament the reality that physical education is now maybe a two-hours-per-week or maybe never affair, and also the inevitable excerpts from Dr. Robert Lustig of the University of California, a renowned expert on pediatric obesity.  Lustig, who has been very clear on the reasons for the epidemic among children, is lumped in with The Perplexed who just can't understand why the hell Americans are so damn fat, why we're moving toward a society where two-thirds of the people are clinically obese and about half have diabetes.

How about: Americans are physically inert and eat and drink way too much stuff loaded up with sugary calories?  Why is that so hard to understand?  And why can't HBO just come out and say it?

Well, HBO can't do that, Congress has to obfuscate the hell out of it, and Lustig has to be denatured and taken out of context in order to fit within the Great Mystery paradigm that HBO is selling.  Otherwise, you anger the Department of Agriculture and the Corn Distillers Association and Senators and Congressmen from Midwest states who keep the monoculture subsidies coming to corn and soybean farmers year after year.

Within the interstices of the documentary, the truth nevertheless leaks out.  School lunches are, of course, roundly lambasted, but in a general, ewwww! way that does not clarify things.  Lots of pictures of hot dogs, for example, and railing against saturated fat and carbohydrates.  Since that only leaves protein as a nutrient source, and since kids aren't actually felines, it's difficult to understand what the answer is supposed to be. Yet at other places HBO lets drop that Americans today drink twice as many sugary drinks as they did 30 years ago, and that a great deal of this sugar comes from high fructose corn syrup, the convenient byproduct left over from America's vast inedible (unless you're a cow, and even then you're not supposed to eat it) fields of corn.

It's true that portion sizes at fast food restaurants are absurd, including 48-oz. containers of water and HFCS. Still, they can study it all they want, but they will not repeal any of the Laws of Thermodynamics, and a slight upward delta of 500 calories a day over caloric usage, particularly when those calories come in easily fattifiable form such as a Big Gulp or 72 ounces of Bud consumed at a tailgate, and when combined with an American Consumer who gets most of his exercise walking to and from the refrigerator on NFL Game Day -- that delta might tell the whole story, might it not?  500 calories/day = one pound of glistening fat (so colorfully displayed during one of the liposuction closeups on HBO!) per week = 50 pounds per year equals a 650 pound Exceptional American a decade later.

Or, it could be a Big Mystery.  Congress should study this and not rush to conclusions.  It's possible that two-thirds of Americans have gland problems.