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HBO’s Weight of the Nation: Dramatic yet disappointing

HBO should be applauded for producing a multi-part documentary film about obesity in this country.  I also think they should be commended for putting the entire series online here, rather than trying to rent it out to make a profit.

However, I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed.  Though the serious highlighted some important facts that many people may not know (such as that only a 10% weight loss has enormous health benefits), they also regurgitated a lot of information we’ve all heard several times, such as:


  1. More than two thirds of adults and one third of children are overweight and obese.
  2. There are many health conditions and disorders caused by obesity that are wreaking havoc on our morbidity and  mortality rates.
  3. Processed foods lead to extra calories and excess weight.

HBO organized the documentary’s 4 parts by the following themes: consequences, choices, children in crisis, and challenges.  The first 2 episodes focused on individual stories of persons suffering from any (or all) of the diseases associated with obesity.  These episodes focused on the body and health related factors.  I hope, that if nothing else, these episodes helped drive home the following points:

  • Obesity is a result of genetics and the environment.  However, environment plays more of a role than genetics.
  • There are many diseases and disorders that result from obesity; the best solution is prevention (which is not actually, in itself a solution for individuals, more so for the population as a whole).

The third episode focuses on children.  They highlight the “predatory” (to use a term by Kelly Brownell) marketing to children and a bit on policy making.  The fourth episode (“Challenges”) had the opportunity to provide solutions, but instead merely focused on the current problems (i.e. agricultural policy).  Overall, the segments tended to focus on weight, health (and medicine), physical activity (or lack thereof), changing behavior and small environmental changes.


What should it have addressed?

One thing that many people don’t understand is the politics behind food lobbying, advertising, etc. that create challenges for policymakers.  HBO could have focused on governmental efforts that received so much opposition (like a soda tax in NYC or Philadelphia) and presented information that help the average person understand this debate.   HBO focused on the individuals, rather than the greater problem – it offered a lot of medical and professional opinions without solutions.

I was most disappointed that HBO did not take a stance on a solution.  Everyone is aware of the obesity “epidemic” and the health problems that arise on all levels.  Now, the bigger issue that needs to be address is this: What are we going to do about this?  HBO had the opportunity to take a stance on the issue and didn’t.

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