It's no secret that childhood obesity is on the rise. All you need to do is walk into any elementary school and the number of overweight or obese kids will overwhelm you.
Everywhere you turn unhealthy food products are being marketed to the public. Whether it's fast food establishments themselves, or the multitude of snack products you find on the shelves of your very own grocery store, all of these influences are affecting us as a nation.
Our kids are our future and right now, our kids are at a severe risk. Unless steps are taken now to reduce the rate of childhood obesity, the future looks bleak. You think health care costs are high now, just wait a few decades when obesity becomes the new norm.
It's a sad state of affairs but luckily, people like the producers of the new film that takes a deeper look at this issue, Killer At Large, are trying to do something about it.
By raising awareness of just how serious this problem is and who's all to blame when it comes to our expanding waistlines, hopefully people will sit up and take action - literally.
Exercise and proper nutrition play vital components in maintaining a healthy weight and unfortunately, Americans are currently not getting enough of either.
I recently had the chance to speak with the creators of the film who gave me an inside look at everything that went on behind the scenes, the interesting research they came across while preparing for the film, and how their views of obesity have changed as a result.
Here's what they had to say.
[ Q ] When you first envisioned this film, what did you see?
[ Bryan Young ] When we started working on this film, I wasn't sure what we were going to get until we started doing the research on the film. We knew we wanted a sprawling examination of the problem, but it was a while before we really understood how complex it was. And then, when we realized that, it was easy to figure out what we were going to include: as much as possible.
Click To Enlarge.
Former President Bill Clinton:
"We've got too many kids too overweight and they're walking timebombs. If present trends continue, this generation of children could be the first to have shorter life expectancies than their parents."
[ Q ] You stated that none of you knew anything about the obesity epidemic before beginning the film. When you first started researching on this, what emotions most came into play?
[ Bryan Young ] I think the feeling I felt most was shock. The sorts of things we discovered in our research were just mind-blowing. I mean, 46% of USDA approved "fruits and vegetables" kids eat these days are ketchup and French fries. That kind of stuff is shocking.
[ Q ] No kidding - with great thanks to the fast food industry. Moving on, when doing your research for the film, what do you think was the most controversial topic you came across?
[ Bryan Young ] I think it's how much influence the junk food industry (Kraft, Kellogs, McDonalds, General Mills, etc.) have on government policies that detrimentally effect our health. These companies aren't interested in our health and safety, but they've convinced the government to do nothing about the problem.
The fact that they're contributing to our national weight problem despite their "self-regulation" is proof positive that deregulation of companies and the "free-market solutions" people talk about are complete bunk.
[ Q ] Was there anything where there were strong opinions on both sides of the argument for whatever statement was trying to be made?
[ Bryan Young ] I think the biggest argument is between those that think that the our government, our communities and our families need to work in tandem to fix this epidemic and those that shout the disingenuous mantra: "It all comes down to personal responsibility."
We really prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that, although personal responsibility plays a role, it's only a small piece of the solution. And quite frankly, American obesity is such a good thing for the economy, it's going to be an uphill battle to fix it because a lot of companies will stand to lose a lot of money if they advocate anything other than "personal responsibility" because they know it won't work.
Click To Enlarge.
12 Year Old Brooke Bates Lays Unconcious On An Operating Table Just Moments Before Undergoing A Very Controversial Liposuction Treatment That Removed 35 Pounds Of Fat From Her 220 Pound Body. Brooke's Story Gained International Attention And Sparked A Debate About The Desperate Measures Being Taken By Overweight Kids.
[ Q ] You interviewed a wide variety of people during the research time period, which interview was your personal favorite? And why?
[ Bryan Young ] I think my favorite interview might have been Ralph Nader. It took a lot of work to finally get him and the time we got with him was very short but the man is so intelligent that he can talk about any subject for hours without the need to consult notes. It was really great.
[ Elias Pate ] One of my favorite interviews was with Lionel Tiger, a really well known and respected anthropologist in New York. In his book, The Pursuit of Pleasure, he details the way that pleasure has influenced our evolution, essentially explaining why we can't resist a beautiful landscape, a catchy tune or that decadent desert we know we should probably skip.
The evolution section of the film is really my favorite and it's something that is too often overlooked when it comes to obesity. It's terribly important and incredibly interesting finding out how and why our bodies do what they do and after interviewing a guy like Lionel Tiger for any amount of time, everybody in the room just feels smarter.
[ Q ] You said that Michael Pollan taught you a great deal; can you summarize his viewpoints on the topic for us?
[ Bryan Young ] My palms were sweating conducting his interview. Anyone who has read his Michael Pollan's books or listened to his lectures can't help coming away with a completely new outlook and passion for food. He just instills in you such a sense of wonder and reverence for good food and where it comes from.
Besides that, he's just a gifted writer and a joy to read. With obesity and other diet related health issues being so prevalent, food has almost become this boogie man coming to steal our children away, but Pollan is quick to point out what a joy good food can and should be. He really lays out just why you deserve more from your food, and until people realize that, it's going to be a long road back to health.
Click To Enlarge.
Michael Pollan, Author Of The Omnivore's Dilemma.
"The government is subsidizing the very thing that is making us obese. It makes absolutely no sense."
[ Q ] If you had to choose one single thing you found while creating this film that was the most shocking or disturbing, what would it have been?
[ Bryan Young ] The thing that I learned that shocked and disturbed me the most was something that Dr. Linda Kinsinger told us. She's with the Department of Veterans Affairs at the National Center for the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
She explained to us that 71% of our American veterans are overweight and most of the amputations that veterans suffer are not war related but are obesity and diabetes related.
That said to me that we have something very wrong with our society that needs to be addressed immediately.
[ Q ] After doing all of your research, what do you personally think is the leading cause of childhood obesity at the moment?
- No Child Left Behind legislation leaving physical education and nutrition classes by the wayside.
- The USDA feeds kids the most unhealthy, greasy food imaginable
- The ubiquity of junk food advertising
- Vending machines in schools
- Soda pop
- The internet
- The societal acceptance of things like Taco Bell's "fourth meal."
[ Bryan Young ] The leading cause is a confluence of factors.
The list goes on and on and it's all the leading cause.
[ Elias Pate ] I'm pretty strict around the house with my kids whether it's with what they eat (or don't eat) or how long they play video games vs. playing outside, I think parents can help a lot as long as they realize that they are the boss.
Unfortunately, I think that when a kid leaves the house, that's when things go wrong - the vending machines in schools, the billions of dollars of junk food marketing pointed directly at them, the exceedingly poor quality of school lunches and the cheap and easy access to fast food everywhere you turn, not to mention the almost complete lack of meaningful Physical Education.
Despite what habits they may or may not be learning at home, the environment that kids spend most of their day in, whether it's school, the mall or the internet, all seem tailor maid to insure overconsumption, laziness and eventually obesity.
Click To Enlarge.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:
"We are going to terminate obesity... once and for all. Today I am signing legislation that will ban all junk foods in schools."
[ Q ] Why is the level of obesity higher in the US than anywhere else in the world?
[ Bryan Young ] I think it has a lot to do with our culture and, as clichéd as it may sound, capitalism. These food companies have no bigger drive than to convince us to consume more and more of their products for their benefit of their bottom line.
It's not that these companies are immoral, they're amoral, the "free market" doesn't allow them to operate in any other way. But they've spent since the invention of television convincing us to consume more, and we do. Eating to excess at all hours of the day is part of the American popular culture these days.
[ Elias Pate ] We really seem to like things that are fast, cheap and easy in this country, especially when it comes to food. Quantity seems to outweigh quality and you can see where it's gotten us.
Our American way of life is so frantically paced that it leaves little time to cook a healthy meal, take an evening walk or even get 8 hours of sleep, all very simple and easy things that can affect your health and quality of life rather dramatically.
It seems like we're just too busy to worry about our health. I really think that in America's case, stress is more at the core of the problem than anything, and our film goes into that side of it quite thoroughly.
Related Stress Articles:
[ Q ] What other side effects have you discovered as a result of obesity?
[ Bryan Young ] I think the most important side effect that we cover in the film is global warming. If every American lost one pound this year, we'd use 39 million gallons less than last year. And the food and agricultural system in the United States uses as much as 20% of our nations fossil fuel supply. It's because our food travels so far to get processed and then it travels even further to get to us when we should be buying as much food locally as possible.
[ Elias Pate ] That's going to be a long list that includes everything from Type 2 Diabetes to heart disease to depression. Nobody dies from simply being obese; it's that obesity is a condition that vastly increases the risk or severity of dozens of chronic conditions and other diseases. It really affects the entire body in a scary way.
[ Q ] What can we do to reduce this epidemic?
[ Bryan Young ] Jim Hightower (www.jimhightower.com) told us that the first thing we can do is to get our elections process publicly funded and force the food and beverage industry out of the lobbying business. That way, the government will be thinking more about what's healthy for the American people than from their campaign contributors.
The next biggest thing is to reconnect people with where their food comes from. We need to have more interactions with farmers instead of checkout clerks. You're not going to have any concerns about the safety of your food if you can ask questions of the person who grows it like what type of fertilizer do they use, what pesticides if any, etc.
[ Elias Pate ] Whether this is a good or a bad thing I'm not sure but there are as many solutions as there are causes. There are certain Government policies and practices that simply have to change if we are going to see any significant progress in our country, but on a social level, I think we really need to simply place more value on our minds and bodies.
We're living in an environment that is essentially dooming us to become obese unless we are extremely vigilant, so we really just need to stick together and encourage each other to make better choices while doing what we can to influence and change policies and environmental conditions that act as road blocks to our health and wellness.
Knowledge is power and I hope our film will empower al lot of people to make a lot of positive changes.
[ Q ] Who/what do you believe is to blame for the increasingly fast "Terror from within?"
[ Bryan Young ] Ultimately, I think we're responsible as a society. We've gone too far down a path that's clearly neither healthy or sustainable and we need to reverse course as fast and effectively as we can.
[ Elias Pate ] Most people are quick to take the blame or place the blame on individuals, touting "personal responsibility", which certainly plays a role, but people have to realize that our fat bodies are simply doing what they're programmed to do as a hunter/gatherer survival mechanism, which is to gather food as efficiently as possible and eat as much of it as possible as often as we possibly can.
We're essentially a bunch of cavemen living in a land of overabundance where the hunt has been replaced by the drive thru. More and more, our environment is becoming dominated by ease, convenience and cheap indulgence and that, to me is the biggest problem that we need to undo in the coming years. How about we stop building parking lots and start building bike paths and parks?
[ Q ] Can bodybuilding and fitness practices help the people and potentially save each other's lives?
[ Bryan Young ] Absolutely. Obesity and its related diseases kill hundreds of thousands of people in the United States every year and any added focus on health, well-being and exercise is only going to reduce those numbers.
[ Elias Pate ] Yes.
[ Q ] Would you say that people who practice (use, not abuse) bodybuilding, are they essentially preventing obesity and increasing their quality of life whilst extending their longevity?
[ Bryan Young ] Definitely. Any exercise program that works for you and gets you more active is going to help prevent obesity and increase your quality and length of life, but it can't be taken as the only step.
Find Bodybuilding Workouts!
With so many different workout combinations, it's tough to know what workout is best for you! We've found that there are a number of workout philosophies that merit a presence here.
[ Get Your Full Workouts Here! ]
Healthy eating of good food and in the proper proportions in tandem with stress control and proper sleep and a dozen other things together are the only thing that will prevent obesity to the fullest.
[ Elias Pate ] Being out of touch with our bodies in general is a huge part of how we got into this mess, so absolutely, practices like body building can not only prevent scores of health problems associated with obesity, but more importantly, it makes you feel great, it can be very rewarding adding to your quality of life which is more important than how you look in a bathing suit.
It's unfortunate that in many cases working people with little time, money or access to resources such as gyms or safe open spaces can't more fully enjoy the rewards associated with fitness and exercising, but as our film details, there are many companies and communities around the country that are demanding that these resources be made available, and thank God for that, because lives are literally at stake here.
[ Q ] Can tools such as BodySpace, editorials, videos, forums, bodyblogs, and supplements help guide and educate these people to the road to recovery?
[ Bryan Young ] Yes, all these things that increase awareness will help the user make positive changes in their lives and promote weight loss.
When I started working on this film, I was classified as obese. But when we started our research, I became much more educated and concerned about what influences my weight. I started eating better, taking a supplement to help regulate my stress and metabolism (it was actually something our executive producer who's a nutritional biochemist developed) and exercising more.
From the beginning of making this to now I've lost almost 40 pounds and am now classified only as overweight.
Click To Enlarge.
Ann Cooper, Militant Lunch Lady:
"The government will pay me to serve chicken nuggets, tator tots, chocolate milk, and fruit cocktail with hight fructose corn syrup to your kids. I refuse to serve any of that."
[ Elias Pate ] Education and awareness are for sure where to start and there's a wealth of information out there, but the supplement thing I only just recently came to appreciate.
I never paid much attention to supplements until Shawn Talbott turned me on to one that he developed called Get Up Slim Down. It sort of felt lake that missing puzzle piece and I never quite realized what a difference supplementation can make in your overall mood and energy level until I tried it and I was really shocked.
It's nearly impossible to motivate yourself to exercise, eat right and make good health choices if you feel like crap all day and I think supplements (for me at least) provided that extra spark and laid the foundation for greater health in general. If there's one thing we've all learned working on this film, it's that the "eat less exercise more" mantra just flat out doesn't work all on its own.
Education, supplementation, actually finding joy in eating and exercising, getting proper sleep, all those small changes are equally important and make a huge difference. Nobody's battle against obesity is hopeless, you just need to find a program that guides you to that proper balance.
[ Q ] What did you hope to achieve by shooting this movie?
[ Bryan Young ] Really to raise awareness of the issue and get people to do something about it. After my wife saw the film for the first time, she was so upset she joined the PTA in advance of our son's getting into first grade to make sure that she can have a voice in fixing the lunch program before he has to be subject to it.
So getting parents more active and aware of what is going on with their kids is the most important thing I think people should be taking away from the film.
[ Elias Pate ] In the beginning we really took it on as sort of for-hire filmmakers, Shawn Talbott, our executive producer was the one with the fire in his belly, really wanting to shed some light on this urgent issue.
That being said, through our extensive research and experience with the issue of obesity, we've truly become passionate about educating the public on not only the horrors surrounding the issue, but the measures we can take as individuals and communities to reverse this deadly trend.
[ Q ] How do you plan on further creating awareness and preventing this disease?
[ Bryan Young ] Well, we're going to speak out as often as possible and take the film everywhere we can show it to an audience so we can get people talking about it. We've been trying to get screenings with campaign officials in the Obama and McCain camps so that maybe we can get them talking about this issue in the campaign. Predictably, their response has been to remain silent.
[ Elias Pate ] As we take Killer at Large around to film festivals, we do our best to reach out not only to area press but to nonprofit organizations, health clubs, organic chef's, farmers, you name it. We really want to rally all these people with a common interest in promoting healthful lifestyles and practices.
If we can all get together and really sound the alarm on this health crisis, I think we can really change a lot of lives and we sincerely hope that Killer at Large can in some small way, get that ball rolling.
Click To Enlarge.
In 2005, Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated, "Obesity Is The Terror From Within. It's Destroying Us From Within. The Magnitude Of This Dilemma Will Dwarf 9/11 Or Any Other Terrorist Attack."
So, as you can see, this issue is more than just what's showing up on bathroom scales. There's far more going on here underneath the surface layers and until people start taking a good, hard look at all the influences that are at play, this problem is not going away.
With any luck, films such as this one will increase the awareness and people will start making some changes.
New York Benefit Screening/World Premiere:
Times Center, New York
November 21, 2008
Information and tickets can be found here: www.ciofoundation.org