Heavy matters in new HBO documentary ‘The Weight of the Nation’

Handout photo scanned May 11, 2012 from THE WEIGHT OF THE NATION: CHALLENGES: Shaquilah Davis, Mark Mertin. photo: Jessica Dimmock/courtesy of HBO TV
Handout photo scanned May 11, 2012 from THE WEIGHT OF THE NATION: CHALLENGES: Shaquilah Davis, Mark Mertin. photo: Jessica Dimmock/courtesy of HBO TV
Posted: May 14, 2012

THE WEIGHT OF THE NATION. 8 and 9:10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, HBO.

By Ellen Gray

Daily News Television Critic

WOULD YOU PAY someone to tell you that you may need to do something about your weight?

That’s essentially what HBO subscribers will be doing this week if they tune in for “The Weight of the Nation,” a four-part documentary on the consequences and challenges of the obesity epidemic that the premium cable network developed with the help of experts from Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Philadelphia’s Mayor Nutter is among the politicians featured addressing the obesity issue, particularly as it relates to children.

Weight loss — swift, dramatic and usually involving a certain amount of puking on treadmills — has become a “reality” genre all its own in recent years, but that’s more about entertaining the masses, not shrinking them.

“I cringe when I see ‘The Biggest Loser,’” says one of HBO’s experts, Dr. Samuel Klein, director of Washington University School of Medicine’s Weight Loss Clinic. “It can actually do a disservice, seeing this rapid weight-loss that they achieve on television that is just not doable under normal circumstances in the real world. They focus on physical activity and exercise as a major therapeutic approach for treating obese patients and we know that’s just not correct.”

Correct, of course, isn’t always as entertaining.

The real-world approaches highlighted here focus more on small changes that can add up to longer, healthier lives than big reveals.

There’s a remarkable degree of sympathy in “Weight” for the two-thirds of U.S. adults who are overweight or obese. Not that most of the films’ subjects let themselves off the hook.

“Does the struggle ever seem sort of unfair?” a woman’s asked after a scientist explains why someone who’s lost weight will probably never get to eat like a thin person of the same build. Ever.

“Sure,” she replies. “But that’s part of the price you pay for allowing yourself to get overweight in the first place.”

Speaking of prices, you shouldn’t need an HBO subscription to see the films, which will stream at HBO.com and be distributed to community-based groups nationwide. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, HBO will also introduce “The Great Cafeteria Takeover,” the first of what this fall will be a three-part series, “The Weight of the Nation for Kids.” n

Contact Ellen Gray at 215-854-5950 or graye@phillynews.comor follow on Twitter @elgray.Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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