Monday, November 18, 2019

Retrospective #275: “The Weight of the Nation”

I learned in 2014 that among the neighbors in my valley community is producer John Hoffman, Founder and CEO of HBO’s “The Public Good Projects.” Among its noted productions is the 2012 series, “The Weight of the Nation.” On the chance that I might meet Mr. Hoffman at a holiday party, I decided to watch the “Main Films” and take notes.  
All four feature-length films, Consequences, Choices, Children in Crisis and Challenges, are available on YouTube. Each feature is divided into chapters capable of being linked and shared. Each film is well produced and deals thoroughly and comprehensively with “the problem” – in the sense that it accurately portrays the obesity epidemic in America, and accurately depicts the timeline in which it developed. There’s also a small segment of very good science on the “ancestral” POV, so again, I was hoping that the producers would reach the logical conclusion and “make the turn.”
I was hoping that, given the agreed-upon time line for the start of the dramatic upswing in weight, and this “ancestral” perspective, the producers would correctly identify the problem: Government’s dictate since 1977 (“The McGovern Commission Report”), and 1980 (the first 5-year iteration of the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans”), that we eat a low-fat diet. McGovern’s “Dietary Goals” and the subsequent 5-year Guidelines are how well-meaning bureaucrats had begun the largest public health experiment in history. While well-intended, it has been a catastrophic failure.
My hopes were high. That pre-disposition is my bias. Besides, if I don’t lean that way, the tsunami of bad nutritional advice out there would “swamp my boat.” So, my ears perked up when I heard, “What makes me frustrated bordering on angry is the fact that this [obesity epidemic] is preventable.” I think it was said by Robert Lustig, MD, the pediatric endocrinologist whose 2009 YouTube video, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” – the full 90-minute version – has now had over 9 million views. Other quotes of his were, “…insulin is not working well at the level of the cells,” “…juice and juice drinks are as bad as soda,” and “sugar is where you start.” He also asked, “What changed in the last 30 years to make this obesity epidemic happen?” His answer: “In the last 30 years our DNA has not changed, but our environment has.
Lustig was practically the only ray of hope I saw in this four-plus-hour presentation. The preponderance of experts said stuff like, “The reason we have government in the first place is to solve problems collectively that we can’t solve individually.” (Thomas Farley, NYC Health Commissioner); “We could have eaten better. We don’t have to have steak, and we don’t have to have roast beef,” and “Eat less, exercise more, eat a balanced diet.” (Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health); “For all intents and purposes, a calorie is a calorie is a calorie; energy-in equals energy-out.” (Rudolph Leibel, Co-Director of the NYC Obesity Research Center at Columbia University); and “Follow a medically advised diet.” (Kelly Brownell, PhD, Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale).
My favorite “quote” from my scribbled notes was from Courtney Rowe, Deputy Communications Director of the by-definition-compromised USDA: “While it is unfortunate that some in Congress choose to bow to special interests, the USDA remains committed to practical science-based standards for school meals that improve the health of our children.” N.B.: Rowe was previously Communication Director for the Senate Agriculture Committee.
It would be less ironic if this political-pot-shot from Rowe in Part 3 hadn’t been followed in Part 4 with these facts: 1) Government subsidy programs are heavily tilted toward the large commodity crops of wheat, corn, sugar and dairy, 2) livestock and poultry feed are subsidized indirectly by cheap feed: corn, soy and other grains, 3) “it is government policy to overproduce what we are already overeating,” and 4) 50% of U.S. farmland is planted in corn and soybeans An economist at Duke University, added, “Obesity rates correlate with corn and soy production.”
The increase in calories in our diet, another said, is attributable to “25% added sugars from corn, 25% added fat from soy, and 50% refined grains from corn starches, wheat, and the like.” The result: food costs ↓; health costs ↑.
N.B. The cost of producing “The Weight of the Nation” was paid for in part by the NIH, IOM, CDC and Kaiser Permanente. At least it wasn’t Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, directly…

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