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In the case that you’re living under a rock, or simply missed the radio and TV advertisements, allow me to fill you in. Last week, HBO premiered a four-part documentary series called, “Weight of the Nation,” which it produced in collaboration with the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In addition to the films, Weight of the Nation encompasses an entire branded campaign replete with a book – called “The Weight of the Nation.” The aim of the entire campaign? To take an “unflinching look at the severity of the [obesity] crisis and its crippling effects on our health care system.” HBO has provided free online access to the entire documentary, as well as topic-specific segments, action steps, discussion guides, and other materials, available here.


 

The documentary series arrived at the tail end of the CDC’s Weight of the Nation Conference, held the week before last in Washington, DC where the IOM put forth its written recommendations for policy makers, after reviewing hundreds of recommendations aimed at obesity prevention, called, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation,” which you can download for free here.

Even before the documentary aired, there was a lively discussion in the media about the series by people who had seen advanced screenings or who simply anticipated what the documentary would be like given the press materials released via HBO. Many debated the film’s approach and content. I have seen others herald HBO, via my Facebook newsfeed, for understanding that “imagination & creativity are the pathways to a broader solution.”

If you would like to see some of the things written on the documentary, check out the following:

Jezebel’s Lindy West and her Weight-of-the-Nation-inspired plea to stop shaming fat people.

Public Health Laywer, Michele Simon’s article, “Why I Am Not Attending or Watching ‘Weight of the Nation’” in the Huffington Post
John Hoffman, Executive Producer of the series,
discusses the basics of his documentary series.

The documentary has even spurred the site “Debate the Weight,” written by the Association for Size Diversity and Health, which provides a counter argument for what they call “one of the most misleading and misguided public health campaigns — ever.”

I have seen the documentary in its entirety. I have sat through an hour-long webinar hosted by the IOM. I have read all of the ancillary materials available on the website. It would be an understatement to say that I approach all obesity-related matters with a critical eye. I have a vested interest in the discussion as someone who was once labeled a part of the “obesity crisis” and who now resides outside of the crisis due to what is considered, by BMI charts, a healthful weight-to-height proportion.

Overall, I think the strength of the documentary is also its weakness. In other words, the fact that it was produced by HBO is great in that it lends instant credibility to the issue as well as a huge audience. However, it definitely shows in the documentary that it was produced to be sensational rather than to provide a truly unbiased and critical lens on obesity. While HBO culled some of the world’s top leaders in the medical, social science and public policy fields to speak on obesity, it certainly left out key experts who provide a more contentious, though thought-provoking, view on obesity, such as Gary Taubes and Linda Bacon.

What did Weight of the Nation get right? It frames obesity as a complex issue and as largely environmentally-produced rather than relegating blame solely to the individual. It discusses how limiting sugar-sweetened beverage consumption would be key to improving health and the important of community activism in solving any health challenge.

What did Weight of the Nation get wrong? The documentary should have shifted focus from size to health. In other words, I wish the documentary series wasn’t called “Weight of the Nation” and that it lost its tagline, “To Win, We Have to Lose.” I think the documentary would be better served if it placed a critical lens on the “obesity crisis” rhetoric itself and the tool we use to measure obesity, which is BMI.

My two hopes are that the series encourages us all to be advocates for health and that we measure our success as a nation by how well we create and ensure equitable access to a healthful life rather than by how we affect our collective girth.

If you have watched any of the films, please leave your thoughts in the comments section!

Annabel Adams

Communications Director at HUMAN Healthy Vending
Annabel Adams is a Los Angeles-based writer and the blogger behind Feed Me, I'm Cranky where she tackles food and obesity politics. To fuel her barefoot running and powerlifting, Annabel loves to snack on anything vegan she can get her hands on. Annabel has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Fitness, Health, and Redbook magazines.
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