Documentary Review: Weight of the Nation

One of our assignments this week was to watch Part 1 of the documentary Weight of the Nation and write a paper on ten things we’ve learned from it. The film, which documents the obesity crisis in the United States, was eye-opening to me in many ways.

1 – I didn’t realize obesity rates are so high. But in fact, 2/3 of American adults are overweight or obese, and worse, they’re passing it on to their children – there were several different studies on this with obesity rates in children ranging from 20- 50% around the country — with poor, urban neighborhoods being the worst. These numbers are tremendous. With so many people affected, it almost seems like a slow genocide of the poor, especially when you realize how deadly obesity is.

2 – Obesity opens the door to degenerative diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and kidney failure, leading to death. While it’s true that all life eventually ends in death, obesity and degenerative disease ensure there will also be years of suffering first. The precursor to diabetes, metabolic syndrome is especially indicated if the liver turns fatty, which was found to be the case in 38% of obese people. The liver is an essential organ (see the word ‘live’ in liver?), and it’s severely compromised by excess fat. The good news is that the fat will clear out from the liver rapidly during a weight loss regimen, and liver structure can even be restored (the liver is one of the few organs that can regenerate itself).

3 – OBESITY CAUSES SO MUCH HEART DAMAGE. The film displayed doctors handling autopsied hearts in various stages of health and disease. It was kinda weird since I don’t usually look at human organs, and I tried not to think about how that was once part of a living person. I suppose now at this point it’s just organic mechanics. Anyway, it was shocking to see the difference between healthy and diseased hearts. The healthy heart looked like a piece of meat, and the diseased hearts (and aortas) looked horrifying. Pop culture is so obsessed with outer image that people may think that’s all obesity is, and that a campaign to call it “beautiful” makes it so. But here obesity is shown to be just as devastating to the internal appearance of the body. This devastation is definitely not “inner beauty”. I felt so sad seeing the damage people had done to their bodies through their unconscious choices.

4 – This made me wonder about their emotional heart, and if the physical damage to their heart was a representation of emotional heart damage. We know that one of the causes/contributors of obesity is food addiction. But what is the root cause of addiction? It’s a big clue that the acronym for the Standard American Diet is SAD. Sad. Why do people feel a resonance with this sad diet? What within them is sad? Why do people “love” this diet? What emotional suffering are they trying to escape? Where is the real love in their lives — just as absent as real food?

5 – At this point, now that it’s been here for a few generations, the Standard American Diet is part of the cultural framework. People do not eat this diet because they studied it on their own and determined it was the best one. They eat it because it’s what everyone around them is doing and has been doing all their lives. It’s the status quo. For most people to transition to a healthy diet, a healthy diet has to be the new cultural norm.

6 – This was not touched on in the film (at least not in Part 1), but a major reason why the SAD is a cultural norm is because there was and still is a sociopolitical agenda driving it to the masses from the beginning. This is documented in books like Fast Food Nation and The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. They knew it was additive and destructive (look at Donald Rumsfeld greenlighting Aspartame in the 1980s, for one of many horrific examples). The simple fact is, large food and media conglomerates manipulate politics to control the food and advertising industries to satiate their own ungodly greed, at whatever cost to the people and planet. There is a reason why everywhere you go, you see the same fast food chains and junk food brands – in every drugstore, gas station, liquor store, grocery store, on billboards and TV commercials, in school lunches, office lunches, vending machines, concert venues, sports arenas, you name it. They are everywhere. Why are these “foods” so widely available and easily accessible? As much as we focus on the power of choice, education and self love and care, this is also a top-down problem that’s far beyond the individual. Better government policies that truly serve the people instead of special interests would make our lives so much easier and more evolved.

7 – People need extremely simple direction. While most people are eating the SAD because it’s normal and they’re not ever going to change, others are waking up to the fact that they need to change, and they’re taking those steps. But they’re at the base camp of a mountain and they need a lot of guidance. One woman interviewed in the film said her doctor told her to “go brown, instead of white – brown rice, brown bread, brown pasta,” etc. That’s so extremely simplified, but she responded to it. (I hope the doctor also told her to “go green”). Anyway, it emphasized the point that people need things to be extremely simple. They don’t have the time or energy to study whole grains, let alone the importance of buying local organic or where to find it (avoiding GMO and pesticide poisoning). I guess that’s after you master “brown”. It’s amazing that real, healthy food has become such a complex feat.

8 – Food education should be integrated with schooling. What are schools teaching kids all day, if not something as fundamental as how to feed themselves properly? What kind of “food” is served for lunch? Do kids learn where real food comes from and how to prepare/cook it so it tastes delicious? What happened to home ec? Why is the playground derelict? Childhood patterns can be corrected with a lot of effort later in life, or we can set them up with healthy habits now. Again, this is a top-down policy issue. Probably not many people are going to pull their kids out to homeschool them, because parents are products of the same system, and both are working all day to support their family in it, even though it’s clearly not supporting them. Things are indeed changing though. It’s nice to see where I live there are some urban gardening programs for kids, and I rode my bike past a lovely school playground in an urban area last night.

9 – Self-love is happening. One guy started a weight loss regimen when he realized obesity was affecting his ability to play music in his band. After losing a lot of weight, he said he looks back on old photos of himself, but he doesn’t disconnect from who he was, he says he is still that guy, he just takes better care of him now. That shows a remarkable shift in consciousness toward self-responsibility and ownership. Whereas the woman at the start of the film would ask her husband the classic question, and of course she’s big, she doesn’t need to ask, but she’s in denial, to the point that when he lied to her and told her no, she would believe him. It was only when he wouldn’t answer that she would freak out, momentarily faced with reality. But she still hadn’t done anything about it – and probably just went to go eat something sweet to feel better.

10 – “Our generation doesn’t crave broccoli, we crave Big Macs.” I don’t like generalizations, because really everybody is different. Even though 2/3 of Americans are obese or overweight, there are still a third that aren’t. So what are they doing differently? Let’s meet them and find out. I, for one, do crave broccoli. I’ve eaten broccoli for breakfast. It’s delicious steamed with some salt and olive oil. And I think Big Macs are revolting, I haven’t been to a McDonalds in ten years. So they didn’t get everyone. 🙂