The prestigious Institute of Medicine and several federal agencies are teaming up to produce an HBO documentary on obesity called "The Weight of the Nation." No doubt it will be well done, but you can predict that it will have lots of shots of unidentified fat butts and academic talking heads portentously announcing that, for the first time in US history, many of our children and grand children will live shorter lives than previous generations due to poor food and sedentary lifestyles.
Frank Bruni wrote an insightful piece about the documentary and obesity in the NY Times. The most important line in his article is the one with the words, "...we need to rethink and remake our environment much more thoroughly than we seem poised to do." I think what he really means is that we need to make more fundamental and rapid changes than our policymakers and institutions are ready to make because they are slow to react and pretty much under the control of agribusiness. That or they are as ignorant as many of the rest of us.
Recently I was at a conference on workplace wellness in Colorado. Knowing I'd have to battle traffic going into the conference center in downtown Denver, I skipped breakfast because they were going to serve breakfast before the opening session. I figured at a wellness conference I could count on finding some good protein sources, like eggs and sausage, because a solid breakfast goes a long way towards stabilizing blood sugars for the rest of the day.
What a surprise to find the offerings consisted of deadly choices like high carb granola and bagels, i.e., sugar once out of the gut and into the bloodstream and low fat yogurt with 26 grams of sugar! I remembered that when I read Bruni's article. I also remembered that the keynote speaker was a PhD Director from a recently constructed obesity research center that would house some of the top scientists studying the problem. He said something very odd: that we should all be patient with the fast food industry because they are trying to come up with healthy alternatives. Really?
The exact opposite is true. Yep, the obesity epidemic has many causes - sedentary lives in front of computers, kids ride rather than walk to school, the stress of long commutes, etc. - but a MAJOR cause is fast food that's laden with sugars, chemicals, and carbs. This food is carefully engineered by PhD's like the pudgy CEO to fire the dopamine receptors so people crave the food just like addicts crave cocaine.
Many of the MDs and PhDs who are experts in the obesity field are as in the grip of Big Food as a mouse being slowly killed by boa constrictor. They end up being apologists for corporations that they should condemn.
What Bruni intimates (correctly) is that there needs to be a massive shift in our social norms. A good place to start would shun industrial fast food just as we do tobacco. Industrial food should be exiled from houses, work cafeterias, and public buildings. This cause will not be lead by many academics or government institutions because their research funding and government largess depends on keeping these powerful, and often vindictive, political forces placated and fixated on their stock prices.
Don't wait for the big institutions to tell you what you need to do, which the people in them often don't do themselves. You can start to make better food choices right now. More fresh foods, more organic, more grass fed. Tell your family, friends, and co-workers why these foods are better and invite them to try it. Your example will inspire more people than any documentary with a bunch of talking heads.