29 May 2012
I watched the first one and a half episodes of Weight of the Nation a couple weeks ago, and I have to say, I was pretty disappointed. So disappointed that I couldn’t bring myself to watch more episodes.
I’ll let Gary Taubes explain just what exactly was so disappointing about it, but in sum, they rehashed the same bad, outdated nutrition/health advice they’ve been dispensing since the 80s (you know, right about the time when we really started packing on the pounds as a nation).
Here’s the TL;DR version of the Taubes’ Newsweek article (but please, read the whole thing!):
At its heart is a simple “energy balance” idea: we get fat because we consume too many calories and expend too few. If we could just control our impulses—or at least control our environment, thereby removing temptation—and push ourselves to exercise, we’d be fine. This logic is everywhere you look in the official guidelines, commentary, and advice.
The problem is, the solutions this multi-level campaign promotes are the same ones that have been used to fight obesity for a century—and they just haven’t worked.
There is an alternative theory, one that has also been around for decades but that the establishment has largely ignored. This theory implicates specific foods—refined sugars and grains—because of their effect on the hormone insulin, which regulates fat accumulation. If this hormonal-defect hypothesis is true, not all calories are created equal, as the conventional wisdom holds. And if it is true, the problem is not only controlling our impulses, but also changing the entire American food economy and rewriting our beliefs about what constitutes a healthy diet.
Oddly, this nutrient-hormone-fat interaction is not particularly controversial. You can find it in medical textbooks as the explanation for why our fat cells get fat. But the anti-obesity establishment doesn’t take the next step: that fat fat cells lead to fat humans. In their eyes, yes, insulin regulates how much fat gets trapped in your fat cells, and the kinds of carbohydrates we eat today pretty much drive up your insulin levels. But, they conclude, while individual cells get fat that way, the reason an entire human gets fat has nothing to do with it. We’re just eating too much.
If this hypothesis is right, then the reason the anti-obesity efforts championed by the IOM, the CDC, and the NIH haven’t worked and won’t work is not because we’re not listening, and not because we just can’t say no, but because these efforts are not addressing the fundamental cause of the problem. Like trying to prevent lung cancer by getting smokers to eat less and run more, it won’t work because the intervention is wrong.
I’m getting so frustrated with this country and its insistence that obese people just simply eat too much and/or move too little. I know obese people who eat the same amount — or less — than I do. I know obese people who run marathons.
You have to think that the explanation for why nearly 69% of all Americans are overweight or obese is more complex than just WE EAT TOO MUCH. Yes, portion sizes are bigger, but that’s just not the whole story. I’m sure of it. If the government and national health organizations want to keep doling out the same bad advice that’s just not working, we can continue to watch our nation get bigger and bigger — and sicker and sicker.
I know HBO meant well withWeight of the Nation, and I commend them for making sure our growing obesity problem remains center stage. But I can’t condone a documentary that offers the same outdated advice we’ve been hearing for decades (as we get bigger and sicker).
When will we finally get that we need a whole new lens on nutrition, health, and fitness? Did you watch Weight of the Nation? What did you think?