So, perhaps it’s a version of confirmation bias, but I approached last night’s debut of HBO’s Weight of the Nation skeptical and I’m afraid my skepticism was rewarded.
The shows are slickly produced and they’ve assembled quite a plethora of experts to weigh in (pun intended). And there’s so much packed into each episode that I think it’s easy for people to pick out bits and pieces they like and don’t like.
Marsha Hudnall, who spent the night live-tweeting the show, summed it up this way:
my take overall: #weightofthenation had some good moments but #weightstigma was fostered. too bad
Re weight stigma, I found what Ragen Chastain of Dances With Fat said today to really resonate:
Let’s be clear – they are pathologizing a body size. It doesn’t matter if they say that we need to seek solutions environmentally instead of at the individual level, or if they say that we should have “compassion” for fat people – they are still telling people that is is not ok to exist in fat bodies and that they should see fat bodies as a threat to America. There are tons of thin people who eat unhealthy foods and are sedentary (which is completely their right), but as far as the government is concerned, as long as you are thin you’re part of the “solution,” feel free to do whatever you want. They want people to look at me (and you, if you’re fat) and think “She is part of a catastrophe. She is threatening almost every aspect of our lives. The first step toward ending the damage is learning how to fight back against her.”
Yes, I am attempting to lose weight. But that does NOT mean I think it’s okay to use obesity as a proxy for sickness OR thinness for health. I think that’s a mistake (big mistake … huge).
I’ve got to learn to eat the right things at the right times. And I’m gonna try. I’m gonna give it a shot. And come back and y’all will see maybe a new me. (laughs)
I recognize that laugh.
All of this money and all of these experts and “make realistic goals” and “keep portions under control” is what HBO has to offer? Yikes. Like I didn’t read that in Seventeen magazine back in the 1970s. Yeesh.
I get that Weight of the Nation is well-meaning. But that’s not really enough. At the end of the day it’s definitely agenda-driven … and it’s likely destined for the fate of previous public health campaigns. Read: one big, epic FAIL.
Ultimately, I remain concerned that Weight of the Nation is more likely to fan the flames of obesity hysteria than drive any meaningful change towards a more healthy nation.
Update, 5/15: Yoni Freedhoff says what Weight of the Nation should have said (emphasis mine):
[W]e need to change the world. Because really it’s the world that’s the problem, not the kids. Kids are kids. There hasn’t been a pandemic loss of willpower in 6 year olds these days. Instead these days 6 year olds are growing up in an environment that is by its very nature obesogenic. Focusing on the kids treats the symptom. We need to treat the cause.
Whether it’s banning advertising targeting kids, ending the provision of no-name junk food at schools, bringing back home economics, launching public health campaigns to promote the home cooked around the table meal, changes to crop subsidies to make junk food less inexpensive to sell – there are no shortages of initiatives we could take.
Though it’s important to note, no one initiative is going to fix this problem and so folks who whinge about how, “soda taxes aren’t going to fix this problem”, are simultaneously both right, and ill informed. …
Clever marketing and misleading food / nutritional labels usually come down to corporate profits. Companies will always want to make money, so where does the fight against obesity go from here?
We need to create a world that nudges us in the right direction, and it’s going to take a huge amount of time and effort. It will require abandoning the notion that the food industry is a “partner” and accepting the fact that their sole job, by the very definition of industry, is to increase profits.
We’re not going to solve this problem with “food products”, but we might solve it with actual food. The sooner governments appreciate that fact, the sooner we’ll see actually evidence based food guides, true school food reforms, and public health campaigns that are actually helpful.
Making the kinds of changes Yoni lists ARE hard. And accusations of “nanny statism” and the deep pockets of food lobbyists lead me to believe that things are going to get worse before they get better.
Update, 5/16: Here’s my take on episodes 3 & 4.