Obesity rates in the United States have skyrocketed over the last twenty years, with no end in sight provoking former Surgeon General, Richard Carmona to state that "obesity is a terror within. It is destroying our society from within and unless we do something about it, the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9/11 or any other terrorist event that you can point out..."
As this epidemic of obesity reaches out into even the most remote corners of the globe, only one thing seems clear, the issue is more complex than you could ever imagine.
Seeking to trace the problem to it's root, we find ourselves in the African Savannah 4 million years ago where we discover how our hunter gatherer ancestry, when mixed in with our modern environment of convenience, stress and abundance has led us to become the most obese generation in the history of the world. Perhaps an even more sobering fact is that we're the first modern society to raise a generation of children with a projected life expectancy that is shorter than that of their parents.
One of the film's most compelling characters is found in Brooke Bates, who after struggling with her weight for all her young life, resorted to liposuction and a tummy tuck at age 12 (all caught on camera). Where the media blitz around the surgery focused on her age and questioning her parents judgment, our documentary camera's dug deeper between the lines to address the confluence of emotional and environmental factors which lead Brooke and so many other young people down a contentious path of food addiction and self loathing.
Beyond the shocking medical statistics and newspaper headlines that one would expect, Killer at Large also examines the ethical and moral implications of the obesity epidemic with leaders of several world religions who sight scripture calling all believers to live healthful lives free of overindulgence and laziness, characteristics that are sadly becoming the norm.
The film goes on to expose the public policies that have been institutionalized by the government and their industrial paymasters who have worked to create an infrastructure that forces farmers to over-produce all the wrong kinds of foods for mass consumption. Add to that further policies that force the price of vegetables artificially high and the price of intensely processed food artificially low, making the poor uniquely positioned to suffer from the results of public policy on obesity.
Other policies and government programs that contribute to obesity are also explored, including those in our schools that are making our children obese. From George Bush's No Child Left Behind proposals and the Federal School Lunch Program to budget cuts and vending machines, America's public schools are becoming the perfect storm of conditions causing unprecedented weight gain in our nation's youth.
But most frightening of all are the National Security implications, causing Carmona to wonder, "Where will our soldiers, sailors and airmen come from? Where will our police and firemen come from if the youngsters today are on a trajectory that says that they will be obese?"
In fact, the problems with the military are presenting themselves now. According to Dr. Linda Kinsinger (U.S. Dept. of Veteran's Affairs) 71% of our veterans are overweight or obese and they suffer more amputations due to type 2 diabetes than from war-related injuries.
Clearly, America is on the wrong path and drastic action is needed to reverse this pandemic weight gain that is negatively affecting every segment of our population. Like Dr. Lionel Tiger says in the film, "It's a battle we fight three times a day and we've all been drafted. It's truly the most democratic of wars."
Film producer Bryan Young, 28, lost 40 pounds over two years when making the documentary, Killer at Large, which details some of the reasons and possible solutions to the nation s obesity epidemic.
The film premieres Friday in New York and opens to wider distribution in January. An educational version (45 minutes) will be offered on DVD through the web site on Dec. 1; a theatrical version (104 minutes) will be available on DVD in April.
The documentary takes a broad look at many causes of overweight including our toxic food environment, the problems with school lunches and vending machines and the impact food lobbyists have on determining government policies. It also includes stories about young people who ve had gastric bypass surgery or liposuction. Plus, there are interviews with dozens of people who have tried to bring attention to the obesity problem including former president Bill Clinton, Kelly Brownell of Yale University and consumer advocate Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Young says making the documentary was eye-opening to him. At six-foot tall, he weighed 260 pounds when filming began two years ago. As he learned about the causes of obesity, the first thing he did was cut out fast food which he was eating almost daily for lunch. I lost 10 pounds in a month.
Then he stopped drinking caloric beverages such as juice and Gatorade and started drinking water and coffee. He had given up regular soda 10 years ago.
Young, who now weighs 220 pounds, says he isn t been able to go the gym as much as he d like to because he has been busy putting the finishing touches on the documentary, which cost $300,000 to make.
So what will it take to reverse this epidemic? Telling people to eat less and exercise more isn t working, says producer Steven Greenstreet. It s an extremely complicated and multi-faceted problem.
Adds Young: It s going to take progressive public policy action. We need to take action in our communities and schools.
Proceeds from Friday s New York premiere are being donated to the Children s International Obesity Foundation. The film s producers and the foundation will be presenting actor Chevy Chase and his wife Jayni with an award for their work in fighting childhood obesity. --USA Today, Nov. 19, 2008