Originally posted on May 16, 2012 by Grist.
The Weight of the Nation — a four-part mini-series that ran this week on HBO (and online) — has received a lot of attention. Produced in coordination with several federal government agencies and paired with a major national conference, the show has been heralded as “groundbreaking” and “bold.” But it’s really just the same old story.
The Weight of the Nation trailer alone smacks of tired stereotypes, but colleagues implored me to watch the entire series, so I did. And it was even worse than I feared.
I’m all in favor of bringing more attention to the nation’s diet-related health crisis. But the HBO series distracts us with the usual scare tactics, dances around the hard political issues, and leaves the viewer with the misguided impression that if we all just worked harder in our own communities, we could fix this mess.
Fear the fat — more shaming and blaming
Many others have provided excellent explanations for why all the alarm-sounding over obesity should be questioned from a scientific perspective. For example, see Deb Burgard’s and Linda Bacon’s responses to the series, which both stem from the Health at Every Size movement, and aim to shift away from size and fat-shaming toward health and compassion.
Marilyn Wann also gives a historical overview and critique of the series and disputes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s claim that Weight of the Nation is “an unprecedented public health campaign.”
But even without getting into a debate over data, there’s clear evidence — in the form of scientific research — that many people exhibit “obesity bias.” In other words, fat people have enough problems dealing with discrimination, bullying, and stigma, and shows like this make life even more difficult for them.
Indeed, the first two episodes were all about the sad people suffering from one malady or another, interspersed with health-expert talking heads scaring us with statistics and images of organs and surgeries. There was not a peep about thin people’s risk for many of the same diet-related chronic diseases.
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