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Obesity, televised

(article, Culinate staff)

The obesity epidemic has hit prime time — or, at least, premium cable. A new four-part documentary series, '"The aired recently on HBO. (If you missed it, you can catch the whole thing online, plus 12 bonus short films.) The documentary series explores the causes and consequences of obesity and features poignant interviews with people struggling to control their weight. 

Critical response has been both laudatory and accusatory. In Newsweek, science writer Gary Taubes argued that the film missed the mark by repeating the popular idea that all it takes for us to lose weight is to burn more calories than we consume. “The authority figures in obesity and nutrition are so fixed on the simplistic calorie-balance idea that they’re willing to ignore virtually any science to hold on to it,” he wrote.
Taubes is well known for his argument that some calories — specifically, sugars and refined grains — may make us fatter than others. These foods cause insulin levels to spike, which in turn makes our fat cells fatter. What "The Weight of the Nation" doesn’t recognize, Taubes pointed out, is that when our fat cells get fatter, so do we. So it’s not necessarily that we’re eating too many calories overall; it’s that we’re eating too many of the wrong ones. (Check out this entertaining infographic illustrating the concept. Dig, too, this amusing infographic showing appropriate portion sizes.)

Culinate contributor Kim O'Donnel, meanwhile, blogged twice about the HBO series. In her first post, she noted some tough facts behind the obesity news:

bq. The CDC says that 9 out of 10 Americans fail to get their daily recommended allowance of fruits and vegetables, but the fact is, even if we all woke up tomorrow and decided we wanted to get our government-recommended servings of fruit and vegetables, there wouldn’t be enough from America’s farms to go around.  

And in her second post, she pointed out a glaring gap: the series' failure to mention cooking as part of the puzzle. 

bq. Cooking is strangely absent from the conversation in this film, a piece that Jamie Oliver tackled in his “Food Revolution” series on ABC. . . . Lessening our grip on chips and soda is certainly one important piece of the equation in reversing obesity. So is regular exercise. But let's not overlook and underestimate the value of the kitchen, where we come together and use our hands, where we ignite our senses and fuel our bodies, minds, and spirits. Where we turn on the oven and fire up our brains, and where the magic of wellness unfolds.