Last night I watched the documentary Killer at Large: Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat. Although I will give this film a slight thumbs-up, it has problems. Killer at Large tries to tackle every angle of the obesity story in 100 minutes. That is simply an impossible task.
Maybe the goal of the filmmaker was less to answer the question in the title but to start many conversations on the topic. If that is the case, here goes mine.
Here is what I liked about Killer at Large.
- Brian Wansink author of Mindless Eating spends a few minutes discussing the psychology of eating. The information in Mindless Eating will do more to help the health of the individual than all that political nonsense. Taking personal responsibility is far more important than if your elected representative took campaign money from Big Food.
- Michael Pollan of Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food explains the relationship between oil, pesticides, corn, and obesity.
- Early in the film, they did a quick cartoon showing a pre-agricultural man hunting down an animal for food. The hunter was lean and athletic. He used strength and bursts of energy to acquire food. He didn’t jog to his prey, he sprinted. I wished they would have gone further with the evolutionary angle.
- The section on children having surgery to fix their obesity was shocking. That poor 12-year-old girl. Did anyone else see that her mom was a Barbie and was winning the household battle for dad’s attention? So sad.
- Although it comprised too much of the film, I did find it interesting to learn about the marketing of junk food in the schools. The title of the film asks why obesity is the problem, not why marketing and politics are the problems. There are millions of kids that grow up today in amazing health that are exposed to the same marketing tricks as obese kids.
Now let me list what this film failed to mention or got wrong.
I never heard the word INSULIN once. INSULIN is everything when it comes to fat gain. It isn’t just the junk food that causes obesity, it is anything that causes insulin spikes. That includes grains, pasta, potatoes, juice, energy drinks, and rice.
- Early in the movie, they tried to imply that cortisol was the reason people were gaining weight. They then rattled off a list of things that cause stress and increased cortisol levels. Missing from that list was steady-state aerobic exercise that so much of our society equates with leaning out. You will not lean out by jogging, you will just become a better jogger.
All running does is increase your carbohydrate cravings, which causes your insulin to spike, which lowers your growth hormone levels and shuts off access to stored body fat.
- Weight training was not mentioned once as a method to combat obesity. Shameful. Note: answering the phone with a dumbbell in one hand is not weight training.
- I only bring this up because the film started down the evolutionary path with that cartoon, but Intermittent Fasting was not mentioned. The biggest dietary lie going today is that missing a meal is the worst thing you can do for health and that it is catabolic. Nonsense. When you fast or miss a meal, your insulin levels drop, which allows your GH (growth hormone) levels to rise. GH is the repair hormone and it is also muscle sparing. During this time, the body can more efficiently use stored body fat for fuel.
- The political section. Our elected officials will make bad decisions. No kidding. I would have preferred you spent more time with Michael Pollan and Brian Wansink.
- The final section showed an entire town going on a diet. It implied two things that I disagree with. The first is that you need some coordinated society effort to lose weight. Nope, just personal responsibility. The second was the focus on exercise. Diet is 80% of the answer and that is where the overweight should be focusing the vast majority of their effort.
UPDATE 2017: crossed out a few lines that I no longer fully agree with or my explanation was oversimplified.