The “War On Obesity” and The Weight Of The Nation

Back in the early days of dating my boyfriend, every once in a while he would turn on Fox News just for a laugh and to see what they’re saying. This usually ended up with me yelling at the TV then yelling at him to change the channel, then, and I’m not proud of this, throwing (hopefully) non-destructive pillows at the TV.

So, as you can imagine, I’m not watching the new HBO “documentary” called Weight Of The Nation for the sake of my own sanity and the well-being of my TV.

weight of the nation image hbo
Image courtesy of

You may be thinking, “Wait a second, Golda. Maybe this documentary will be an unbiased look at the so-called ‘obesity epidemic.’ Why not watch it?” And I want to thank you, reasonable reader, for thinking such a reasonable thing. But a few things have clued me in that this is a one-sided documentary, including the tagline, “To Win, We Have To Lose.” That alone let’s you know that this will be a documentary about obesity being on the rise, fat being bad, and weight loss being the answer. The fact that none of that is actually true doesn’t seem to matter.

Here’s the thing – I actually love debating. But I’ve found that debating the existence of a problem is often no fun at all. For example, it could be fun, in a way, to debate what we should do about global warming. But debating with someone over the existence of global warming tends to be a tedious and fruitless debate. Similarly, debating with someone over the existence of the obesity epidemic, which doesn’t actually exist and is a completely unhelpful framework for discussing improving people’s health, is no fun when that debate is with someone who’s invested in the idea of the obesity epidemic and the need to eradicate obesity. Plus, debating with the TV is never any fun. 

The McLaughlin Group 1980's SNL image
I started yelling at the TV at a young age with the McLaughlin Group (image courtesy of

I know that I should be watching this “documentary,” if only so that I can snarkily tweet about it. But I won’t be. Watching stuff like this makes me feel really stressed out. It makes me feel personally attacked, which the so-called “War On Obesity” really is. The War on Obesity is really just a war on fat people. If weight loss efforts don’t work for 95% of people, and making a fat person thinner doesn’t bestow any health benefits beyond a few months, what are we really talking about here? We’re talking about a concept that basically says, “We don’t like you or the way you look, so we declare war on you. We consider you a scourge and seek to eradicate you.” Couch it however you want, but this is the War On Obesity, and it is truly vile.

So how do we fight back? This fight is already happening, of course, in so many different ways. Every time we fight for anti-discriminatory legislation, or put up fat positive billboards, or write letters, or just live our lives in full view of others as fat positive, we are fighting back.

I really admire the fat folks who can watch something like Weight Of The Nation and take action. I admire the fat folks who can do this on a regular basis, diving into the comments sections of fat positive posts to fight fat hating comments. (By the way, if you want to do this, there’s an amazing facebook group called Rolls Not Trolls which does this in a somewhat organized way.)

But if you’re like me and can’t hack it, I want to say that that’s okay too. Activism takes many forms, and all of them are valid and needed.

Finally, you might dig this response video from The Association For Size Diversity & Health (ASDAH):

16 replies on “The “War On Obesity” and The Weight Of The Nation”

I have to say, I’m quite bothered by this post.  If you don’t want to watch a documentary, because the subject is difficult for you, that’s fine.  But deciding you know what it’s about, what its tone is, and how it is wrong without watching it – and then writing a post declaring that your ignorance about it is a principled stand?  This is not up to usual Persephone standards.   Usually opinions here are informed opinions, and that is why it is worth reading.  This post is not.

Ok, no. It’s not what you think it is. Same goes for those of you commenting on this, because you really have no idea. I watched all four parts to this.

They do not blame fat people for being fat. They blame our society. They blame the food industry and inventions like high-fructose corn syrup. And they don’t just talk about people who are obese. They talk with people who are normal to slightly overweight and the health problems they have associated with bad diets. No one freaks out about ugly fat in the series.

In the documentary, there is hardly any talk of aesthetics. They *do* point out that it is incredibly difficult for people to lose weight and keep it off. They comment on the body and how everyone has a “set point,” which is a weight your body naturally wants to stay at and always fights to get back at. They point out how a smaller person who is naturally small can consume more calories and work out less than someone who is trying to lose weight and keep it off. An entire part is focused on how hard it is to lose weight, and in fact the first thing they tell you is to ‘get over’ the fat-phobia. Because someone who is larger but maintains a healthy lifestyle can be healthier than a small person who gorges on fast food and never moves.

They talk about the ways exercise is beneficial for your health, but not a tool for losing weight. It is the most realistic documentary I’ve ever seen on ‘obesity,’ and if you’re watching to inspire yourself to lose weight, you’re going to be seriously let down. The second part is incredibly depressing and just shows how impossible it is. If someone who just wants fuel to blame fat people watches it, then I think it’ll knock some sense into them.

A lot of it focuses on the food industry, and how corn/soy is subsidized by the government and that makes it cheaper to eat worse. How expensive it is to eat healthy. Really, everything everyone has commented on here is in the documentary.

That’s my two cents from watching it.

Thank you so much for this.

I usually don’t venture into these posts because like “Kill All Fat!” scares me, so does “We’re Fine, They’re Wrong”. Or pretty much every Big Message (wrong wording?).
And I’m going to try to watch this documentary.

Thank you for crafting the articulate post I couldn’t last night.

The documentary doesn’t fat shame.  It focuses on chronic disease, the farm bill and other regulation of food.  We can argue over whether or not the obesity epidemic exists, but like the author says that’s a mind numb debate.  But diabetes and heart conditions are serious problems in this country, that cost us huge amounts of money and the problem isn’t about fat but it is about what we put into our bodies as a society, not so much as individuals.

I haven’t seen the doc or the ads for it (not in the US) but there is often a big gap between how a TV station promotes a show and what’s actually in it. It sounds like one of those things – and like quite an interesting documentary, too.

I know, right??

What really kills me about the Obesity Panic (TM) is that it blames individuals rather than institutions. The fact that U.S. obesity rates are higher among people in poverty should mean something. It shows that we have systemic problems, yo.

And high fructose corn syrup. It causes more weight gain than regular sugar. And it is in fucking EVERYTHING in the U.S. And yet when this fact is mentioned, usually people are like “fat people need to eat less of it!” Which assumes for one that they’re eating it to begin with. And for two that if they ARE eating it, that they’d actually lose weight if they stopped (hah!).

But rather than addressing the systemic things that are associated with obesity, it is clearly the fat individual’s fault that they are fat. So, rather than saying things like hey, let’s put more regulations on the food industry so it gives us food with more nutrition and fewer chemicals, we go FAT PEOPLE ARE GROSS.

If we were really so concerned about health, we would address the systemic issues, from the quality of our food to accessibility of exercise. But instead it’s just all used as a thinly-veiled attack on fat people.

Nope, fat individuals being fat is totally fat people’s fault.

I was so amazed when I moved to Britain and discovered that food actually tastes better over here because of all the shit they DON’T put in it. Coca Cola is made with real sugar and it’s amazing. Bread? All the ingredients are recognizable: flour, yeast, water, etc. You can’t let those chemicals set foot inside a grocery in Europe; it’s illegal. Food here is better and as a result you need to eat less of it to satisfy yourself.

All. This. Let’s also remember that eating an all organic, non-processed food diet is EXPENSIVE and completely unrealistic for low income families. It’s cheaper to feed a family on processed food than non-processed. So the solution of “Stop eating fast and processed food,” simply cannot work for many Americans.

Yes absolutely! I know this from personal experience. When, as a student, I was still getting money from my parents, the BF and I could afford to cut out as many chemicals as we could (which was also really good for his diabetes, because no HFCS!). But when I cut ties with my parents, we couldn’t afford it anymore.

I would love to cut out the processed foods. But when you need to eat and you’ve only got 10 dollars left to spend, you’re not going to buy the five dollar no-chemical wheat bread. You’re probably going to buy the 99 cent white bread.

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