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Kevin Kindle
Writing Credits:

To win, we have to lose.

Continuing the tradition of 2007’s Addiction and 2009’s The Alzheimer’s Project in spotlighting the nation’s most pressing health issues, HBO addresses the issue of obesity in The Weight of the Nation, an initiative that will help launch one of the most far-reaching public health campaigns on this epidemic to date. Developed in partnership with the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and in association with some of the world’s foremost health-research organizations. Three years in the making, The Weight of the Nation spotlights the facts and myths of this public-health crisis, showing how obesity affects the health of the nation and cripples the health care system.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1/16X9
English Dolby 2.0
Spanish Dolby 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 276 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 7/31/12

• 12 Bonus Shorts
• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Weight Of The Nation (2012)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 30, 2012)

With health care and public initiatives such as NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large soft drinks, obesity has been in the news more than ever. HBO examines the subject via a 2012 documentary called The Weight of the Nation.

The program splits into four parts: “Consequences” (1:08:43), “Choices” (1:12:49), “Children in Crisis” (1:07:31) and “Challenges” (1:08:03). Across these, we hear from a variety of physicians, politicians, folks who influence public policy, researchers and overweight Americans. (Normally I like to list the names and titles of all the participants, but with literally dozens of on-screen interviewees across nearly five hours, this became absurdly unwieldy.)

“Consequences” looks at all the health issues that result from obesity and also how they affect society as a whole. “Choices” examines methods to lose weight and control body size, while “Crisis” provides a focus on youngsters and their particular obesity concerns. Finally, “Challenges” follows the history of food availability in human culture and how this has affected our intake and weight as well as connected issues.

We all have experiences with obesity – whether in ourselves or friends/family – and we all have opinions about causes/solutions. I come at the topic from the POV of the Former Fatty. No, I was never super-huge, but I was a chubby kid, a chubby teen, and a chubby adult until 32, when I was around my peak at 220 pounds. That left me with a BMI of 29.8, which is as high as you can go in the “Overweight” range before you enter “Obese” at 30.0.

Back in the summer of 1999, I started to lose weight and after a year, I’d knocked off more than 50 pounds. Today I find myself in the position of probably being too thin; I’m around 155 pounds, which sets my BWI at 21.

How did I do this? I ate less, I ate better, I exercised more – and I watched my caloric intake like a formerly fat hawk. I won’t claim that this approach will work for everyone and that it’s flawless, but I suspect that it would be successful for the vast majority of overweight people.

You won’t hear much about this side of things across the nearly five hours of Weight. Oh, the documentary occasionally nods in the direction of personal responsibility – mostly during “Choices” – but the individual’s commitment to health remains on the sideline.

Instead, Weight batters us with all the reasons the filmmakers believe Americans have almost literally been forced to become fat. Based on this documentary, you might come away with the impression that the market makes it next to impossible to be healthy. We can’t do it ourselves, it tells us – we need other authorities to force us to control ourselves.

This is utter bollocks, and it reaches its nadir in “Crisis”. That episode devotes virtually its entire running time to criticism of advertisers and others who try to sell their goods to kids. All the while, the show almost entirely ignores the folks most responsible for health and welfare of youngsters: the parents.

Weight leaves one with a feeling of helplessness, which I think is bizarre. Let’s be frank: if you don’t want to be fat, you can affect that change in yourself. Barring some external medical issue, the individual can lose weight and be healthy.

All the documentary’s attempts to convince us that the marketplace “forces” people to eat crap don’t work. Just because the stores, restaurants and advertisers put lots of unhealthy/high-calorie food in front of you doesn’t mean you have to eat it.

Like I said, I’ve been there. I spent my whole life overweight and became convinced I couldn’t become thinner. Oh, I’d lose some pounds for a while, but they’d come back pretty quickly. Only when I got serious about the issue did I lose – and keep off – all the weight.

According to Weight, I shouldn’t have been able to do this. I still go to fast food restaurants. I still eat candy and cookies and ice cream. I still imbibe soft drinks. I just watch how much of these I eat/drink.

Amazing, huh? I don’t want to sound snarky and smug, but the tone of Weight really irritates me, as it simply puts far too little responsibility on the individual. It tells us about the problem in detail and gets into many solutions – almost none of which connect to “eat less and exercise more”.

That “Crisis” episode really does come across as the most shrill of the bunch. It acts as though junk food advertised to kids is a new concept, even though I remember very well how actively we kids were sold sugary cereals and other productions in the 1970s. The program gripes about how much time kids spend in front of the TV and seems to think that we didn’t have that option 40 years ago. It constantly complains about how advertisers “force” kids into crap foods and how these kids have no apparent options other than to sit at home and soak in these promotions.

Again, what about the parents? If they don’t want their kids to eat sugary cereals, don’t buy them. If they don’t want their kids to watch so much TV and play so many video games, don’t let them.

But we don’t hear those attitudes in Weight. We’re just battered by its one-sided take on the subject which make it exist as more of a political screed than an objective take on the issues.

On top of these other issues, Weight is ridiculously long. We get nothing one might call revelatory here; in essence, the series tells us people are getting fatter, this is bad, and it needs to change. This would work fine for a one-hour program, but do we really need almost five hours on the topic? (And that doesn’t count the more than four hours of additional material on this set’s bonus disc – oy!)

Look, I don’t want to minimize the subject. Obviously obesity has become a significant problem, and a variety of changes need to occur to affect this. Weight does contain some good ideas – and it spotlights concerns such as the relative unavailability of healthy options in many poorer communities o but it berates us so often across its extreme running time that it loses effectiveness. We would’ve been better served by a much shorter and much less abrasive/one-sided view of the topic.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus B

The Weight of the Nation appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This was a more than acceptable presentation.

Sharpness depended on the nature of the footage. Interview elements provided solid delineation, as those bits appeared concise and accurate. However, other videotaped material tended to be iffier, so expect some mediocre images along the way. No issues with edge haloes or source flaws appeared, and only light instances of shimmering or jaggies occurred.

Colors also varied, but they usually looked acceptably accurate and realistic. The show went with natural hues that demonstrated pretty positive reproduction. Blacks also appeared fairly deep and dark, while shadows were clear and visible. All of this was attractive enough for a “B”.

Don’t expect much from the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Weight, though it seemed perfectly satisfactory for this kind of project. The series used the various channels to create general ambience much of the time. None of this demonstrated very good localization, but at least the track showed some life. Music offered decent stereo imaging, and the surrounds bolstered the various sequences.

Audio quality was fine. Speech sounded natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music and effects appeared acceptable, though not particularly dynamic. I thought the track worked well enough for a “C+”.

The package comes with an entire disc full of extras. These cover 12 Bonus Shorts. We locate “Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby: The Risks of Excess Weight” (30:34), “Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes” (15:19), “Latino Health Access: A Model of Community Involvement” (19:26), “Nashville Takes Action: A City Battles Obesity” (19:41), “Can A Lifetime of Excess Weight Lead to Heart Disease?” (22:16), “Poverty and Obesity: When Healthy Food Isn’t an Option” (24:01), “Stigma: The Human Cost of Obesity” (18:51), “Overweight in the Workplace: How Wellness Programs Can Help the American Workforce” (18:45), “The Quest to Understand the Biology of Weight Loss” (22:50), “Is Weight Something We Inherit?” (11:02), “Healthy Foods and Obesity Prevention: Increasing Markets for Fruit and Vegetable Farmers” (31:08) and “Obesity Research and the National Institute of Health” (10:34).

As I mentioned during the body of my review, we find so many interview subjects that it’d be impractical for me to list all of them. That continues to be true here, and we find most of the same speakers found in the main program.

We also get many of the same topics – the shorts often tend to simply expand on subjects addressed in the main program. Some fresh issues do arise, however. “Healthy Mom” is probably one of the better of the shorts. It seems less hectoring and redundant that much of the main program, and it offers actual good advice/information. Some of the others are also pretty solid, and the ones that focus on community intervention actually fare better here than in the main program because they’re more detailed.

For others, however, the extra time doesn’t serve them especially well. Some – like “Excess Weight” – tend to fall into the “no-brainer” category; do we really need 22 minutes to tell us that being fat hurts your heart? Or the nearly 19 minutes of “Stigma” to let us know that heavy people experience increased social problems?

If you choose to get this set, I’d recommend you either watch the main program or these shorts. If you take in both, you’ll find an awful lot of redundancy, so I don’t think this offers a good use of time. Personally, I liked the shorts more than Weight itself; they tend to be less shrill/political and more informative.

A booklet concludes the package. This offers notes about the four episodes of Weight as well as the bonus shorts. It acts as a good capper to the set.

At its heart, The Weight of the Nation delivers an important message. Unfortunately, it takes way too much time to tell us its theories, and it tends to be far too one-sided/political. The DVD offers good picture quality, decent audio and a long collection of useful – though often redundant – supplements. I admire the aims of Weight but find myself frustrated by the end product.

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