Judge Clark Douglas made the mistake of betting he could eat just one.
Confronting America's obesity epidemic.
There's no denying it: America is fat. Obesity has been rising at an alarming rate in recent years, and most of the diets, ad campaigns, documentaries and pills which have been offered have failed to cause significant change. It's a problem with a relatively simple "do and don't" solution—do exercise, don't overeat—but the increased knowledge we've received in recent decades about how our bodies process certain foods hasn't helped us. Our awareness does nothing to change the fact that we eat more and we move less.
It's an important subject well worth exploring, but HBO's sprawling documentary The Weight of the Nation doesn't seem capable of adding much more to the conversation. It's easily one of the most ambitious documentaries I've seen on the subject, attempting to fuse themes addressed in Food, Inc., Super Size Me, Forks Over Knives, and Fast Food Nation into a single obesity-themed epic. Unfortunately, there's simply not enough insight or dramatic weight to justify the plus-sized running time.
Though a host of different angles of the obesity epidemic are explored, the documentary ultimately wants you to take away that simply "do and don't" message listed above. It doesn't have a specific agenda to take down fast food or promote a vegan diet or pronounce carbs/animal proteins/trans fats/whatever as the secret villain behind this trend. The common sense and diplomacy it offers are admirable, but too often the documentary is content to simply deliver familiar platitudes. We witness one doctor, scientist and weight loss champion after another talk about the things we can do to make things better, but the problem is that they're simply not telling us much that we don't already know. That would be okay if the documentary were a compelling overview of our country's weight problem, but it grows dull pretty quickly.
The Weight of the Nation is broken up into four parts, with each section examining a different angle of the issue: "Consequences," "Choices," "Children in Crisis" and "Challenges." In each section, we hear testimonials from a host of different people who have struggled with weight loss, and get unique perspectives on why different people have so much trouble. There are some people with medical conditions which prevent them from losing weight easily. Some people eat because they're bored, or because they're stressed, or because their emotional needs aren't being met (which leads to a scene in which a group of women smell fresh-baked brownies and talk about the emotions the savory snack inspires in them). The series of hard-won success stories we're shown is meant to have an invigorating effect, but instead it's just exhausting.
Proponents of the miniseries feel the length is necessary to convey the full scope of the obesity problem, but so much of what the documentary covers is already such a familiar part of our everyday lives (after all, approximately 70% of Americans are overweight or obese). There are interesting tidbits, but it feels like the sort of thing which ought to be running on a loop in the lobby of a health clinic than something which really merits four and a half hours of your undivided attention. Perhaps if the arguments were a bit less narrow (for instance, the traditional calorie-based approach is given a good deal of attention, but there's far less attention paid to more complex matters like the unhealthy ingredients present in processed food) or if the documentary didn't rely so heavily on a bland "talking heads + text factoids" structure, we might have had something. Alas, The Weight of the Nation is a well-intentioned but ultimately disappointing endeavor.
However, if you're one the folks who found the whole thing riveting and are eager to hear more, than the DVD box set should satisfy your needs. The standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widesceen transfer is perfectly adequate, with solid detail and depth (though again, it's largely a talking-heads piece which doesn't need eye-popping imagery), and the Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is stellar. However, there's a ton of supplemental material (so much that an additional disc was required) to dig through. You get a host of bonus shorts covering the following subjects: "Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby: The Risks of Excess Weight," "Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes," "Latino Health Access: A Model of Community Action," "Nashville Takes Action: A City Fights Obesity," "Can a Lifetime of Excess Weight Lead to Heart Disease?," "Poverty and Obesity: When Healthy Food Isn't an Option," "Stigma: The Human Cost of Obesity," "Overweight in the Workplace," "The Quest to Understand the Biology of Weight Loss," "Is Weight Something We Inherit?," "Healthy Foods and Obesity Prevention" and "Obesity Research and the National Institute of Health."
The Weight of the Nation could have been a defining statement on an important issue, but instead it's simply an overlong catalogue of well-covered territory.
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