Killer at Large – Obesity Documentary Without Focus

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.

Killer at Large

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 Ominivore’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 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 problem. There are millions of kids that grow up today in amazing health that are exposed to the same marketing tricks as the 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 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 over simplified. 

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MAS

Critical MAS is the blog for Michael Allen Smith of Seattle, Washington. My interests include traditional food, fitness, economics, and web development.

15 thoughts on “Killer at Large – Obesity Documentary Without Focus”

  1. I’ll have to take a look at that film. What I already don’t understand is how they failed to link some of the obvious things with weight loss/management, like the importance of nutrition, weight training and interval training. This stuff is hardly groundbreaking info IMO. You have to wonder who they interviewed, for them to miss all of that…

  2. They seemed to imply in the movie that removing the junk food and reducing calories was enough to cause fat loss. For children this is enough, but adults may already be showing signs of insulin resistance.

    If fairness to them, they did only have 100 minutes. They bit off more than they could chew. 😉

  3. I was yelling at the lady who was the “anger mom” wanting the food industry to stop advertising to her kids and thereby undermining her authority. TURN OFF THE TV! Exersice your authority to TURN OFF THE TV! I think kids are easily manipulated, which is why my family does not watch TV. (For more reasons than advertising issues.)

  4. I just watched the film. Ran across your posting while looking for more information about the documentary.

    Annie is correct: Insulin is mentioned, repeatedly.

    Robin, I am with you. Parental control can be as simple as turning off the tv. Frankly, the obesity epidemic and commercialism are two of the many reasons I do not even own a tv.

    MAS, I wonder if you are missing the point. The point is stated very clearly: The obesity epidemic our nation faces is not one that can simply be “cured” by telling people to exercise more. It is a multifaceted issue, which requires a complex cure. This cure includes diet and exercise, but it also requires our government (which is supposed to protect and care for its people) to not simply listen to money, and our nation’s people to wake up and demand change. (This is the reason the film takes on such a “Large” topic is such a “Large” way.)

    Personal responsibility (such as exercise and diet modification) is an important key to not becoming obese, but tell me how that such a simple argument is going to sway the poor, the average American who only reads at a sixth grade level, the single parent who knows this but is forced to work two jobs, or children (who cannot even tell the difference between programming and commercials) when every other facet of the Average American lifestyle is screaming something different at them.

    Further, as the film points out, if way too many of today’s youth are fat and diabetic, where will our future military, police, firemen, EMTs come from. Truly, the obesity epidemic effects us all.

    Thank you.

  5. @Heather – Maybe I’ll watch it again. I did give it slight thumbs up, but I’ve seen a lot of health and nutrition stuff in the past 2 years and I didn’t think this was one of the better films.

    How do you connect to children and the poor when the governments own recommendations actually promote further obesity? I wish I knew.

  6. I had a hard time understanding how a 12 year old found a Dr. who would perform lipo on her. Then again that same Dr. performed a plastic surgery for that MTV show “I Want a Famous Face.” All that teaches people is that there will always be an easy fix so have as many french fries as possible because you can pay someone $6,000 to make it go away.

  7. I rented it last night.
    Overall I thought it was a good documentary.
    Thumbs down was the sound quality and editing.
    Thumbs up was the explanation on how the Gov. really is creating even more health problems for the future, further weakening the population even further until most of the adults and the kids are sick, fat constantly medicated,and they stay that way because they never understand that the advertising of food and the taste-ologists psychological cripple people through taste-bud serotonin addictions. Soon the USA will be crippled with Obesity and the wealth of the country will dwindle. Our health is so valuable and yet unknowing Americans are losing the life quality and time to a short few seconds of gratuitous gluttonous tongue behaviour, creating a lifetime of diseases. Synth-foods are fake and bodies are made from more natural materials.
    It is the Fattest Crime, people getting ignorant , sick and fat /obese while a few exec’s and gov. leaders who know the food link addiction get rich on the suffering of others. SO sad. God save America, who were once the land of the free but no is enslaved in Diabesity !
    I enjoyed the movie and will purchase a copy. It has made more cpnvinced to do a great job battling this pandemic. I will continue to help my patients recover from their weight-issues and obesity / diabetes.
    Laurens Maas B.Sc. OST, DI.HOM.
    Registered Osteopath and Homeopath
    Barbados

  8. All —
    I watched Killer at Large again and my conclusion is unchanged. In fact I dislike the movie more than before. The film completely lacks focus. It has way too much emphasis on exercise.

    Killer at Large has a paternal, “we know better” tone. However, I saw no evidence that the filmmakers or half the experts interviewed knew the cause of obesity. Hell half of “good guys” in the movie were overweight themselves. Also the statistics they threw around on obesity are extremely exaggerated. They are based off the very flawed BMI metric, which I’ve discussed before. The movie Fat Head does an excellent job of explaining how the obesity epidemic is overstated.

    I can no longer recommend this movie.

  9. Dear Critical Mas,

    “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.”

    This is not true. Insulin spikes when you eat refined white grain, pasta made from refined white flour, white rice, and any drinks including energy drink that include refined white sugar. Refined flour is same as white flour which is same as enriched flour. Insulin spike leads not only to fat gain but destroys pancreas because pancreas have to overwork in order to produce insulin spike.

    So why whole grain does not produce effect as refined flour?

    Read here
    http://www.wholevegan.com/refined_flour.html

  10. MAS, I think your missing what this documentary set out to do. You like I and many others have seen a vast array of pictures that cover the obesity epidemic, GMO’s, fat intake and how all fat isn’t bad and other various aspects that contribute to America being severely overweight. This picture IS TRYING to look at it from a broad prospective to educate the viewer who doesn’t know all the ways we are influenced by food and just how bad things are. From reading you comments you are obviously well versed with how we become fat (ie insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome), which is great, but you cannot just start talking to the average uneducated American about metabolic syndrome and how things work, they’ll lose interest, trust me I know from experience. This isn’t “Fat Head”, its a starter documentary, something that gets the mind thinking about a VARIETY of ways how we’re being influenced to consume horrible foods. Although I really like “Fat Head”, Tom overlooks the education level of the average consumer a little bit. Regardless if he means to or not, this country as a whole is rather uneducated when it comes to food. The majority still thinks wheat bread means it’s whole grain, which you and I know isn’t true. If one was to make a documentary explaining every topic that you have talked about in your comments it would be 7+ hours long and no one would watch it outside of foodies, they’re trying to appeal to the general public. I don’t think this documentary…. no, this documentary didn’t spend too much time on the marketing aspect & schools, because no other documentary has spend a large amount of time looking at this and exactly how far it down the line it goes with government etc… This particular piece is marketed towards schools, which is great so maybe a principal or superintendent will view it and make vast changes to their lunch programs. And you shouldn’t criticize the picture for examining the group approach to a healthy lifestyle because having peer support does believe it or not help aka fat people have fat friends and healthy people have healthy friends (who would of thought), and yes that has be studied. Just because it looked at this way of doing something doesn’t mean it implied that YOU NEED SOME COORDINATED SOCIETY EFFORT TO LOSE WEIGHT, but it helps (that whole peer pressure thing works both ways, good and bad). And yes it comes down to personal responsibility at the end of the day, no one is going to make you eat healthy and exercise. And if your saying it’s negative to mention the importance of exercise, your mad. I don’t think your crazy or stupid or anything, I just believe your looking at this picture the wrong way, remember it’s an overall approach to informing the general public about the obesity epidemic and ALL its components, of which exercise is a big part (fun fact: the best way to improve your HDL level is to exercise, proven by peer reviewed literature, I’d site it but this isn’t a research paper). This documentary is good for what it intended to be, if your watching horror film expecting comedy you’ll be let down.

  11. @Tom – I guess we just disagree. If they are going to organize a public coordinated response to obesity, then I think they need to understand the causes a little better. Otherwise they will fail and we will be doomed to repeat this process over and over. In fact, we already have. The new plan of attack on childhood obesity is same as the last one and the one before that.

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