ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE--
AGATSTON, M.D., Author, The South Beach Diet: Fat doesn't
necessarily make us fat.
J. KENNEY, Pritikin Longevity Center: What's the point of looking thin in a
ANNOUNCER: Which diets fail? And which ones work?
ROBINSON: Your body mass index is approximately
29, and that puts you in a category of being considered overweight.
Correspondent: High overweight, it looks like.
ROBINSON: Well, you're getting close to the level
of being obese.
NARRATOR: Correspondent Steve Talbot gets the skinny on the Diet Wars tonight on FRONTLINE.
WATCHERS EMCEE: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in
welcoming my good friend, Sarah, the Duchess of York!
FERGUSON, Weight Watchers Spokesperson: It was eight
years ago when I'd managed to completely and utterly destroy my life 100
percent. But you might have read
about it, I think.
TALBOT, FRONTLINE Correspondent: [voice-over] My name is Steve Talbot. Somehow, I've ended up in a room with a
thousand middle-aged women. We're
seeking inspiration from the Duchess of York.
FERGUSON: --boiled eggs, white bread groaning with
salted butter, and on went the weight.
TALBOT: Fergie is famous for losing weight.
FERGUSON: Some of the headlines said, "The
Duchess of Pork." You might have
known that and--
TALBOT: It's January, diet time, a time when
most Americans dream about shedding 20 pounds or more. I've come here as a reporter for FRONTLINE, but it's hard not to
get caught up in all this.
FERGUSON: You can do it.
TALBOT: The atmosphere at Weight Watchers is
almost like a revival meeting, with inspiring personal testimony and positive
FERGUSON: It's weird up here, isn't it,
WEIGHT WATCHERS DIETER: It's really weird!
FERGUSON: I know.
STEPHANIE: I can't believe it!
TALBOT: What's astounding is just how much
weight Stephanie has lost, 95 pounds. She told me her weight had become a personal health crisis.
STEPHANIE: I was, like, you're on a roller-coaster
towards, like, a downhill slide here, and it's not going to be good. And so that's really what brought me to
the door the first time. I had to
make a health change.
TALBOT: [on camera] Boy, I can understand that. What about just appearance,
though? I mean, that's important. We're in a society. You all look great, you know? I mean, part of a motivation, too?
WEIGHT WATCHERS DIETER,: I went
shopping all the time and couldn't find a thing to wear. And I just finally got tired of
it. I actually lost 9 pounds the
first week, and I found how easy it was, that I just continued to go every
TALBOT: [voice-over] Sandra lost 102 pounds, and now she's
proudly showing off her new clothes and her new figure.
this assignment, I never thought much about America's obsession with losing
weight. Truth is, I've never even
read a diet book. But I do know
that dieting is a $40 billion business, and there are dozens of warring diet
CRAIG DIETER: I lost 111 pounds. Now I'm half the mom and twice as much
ORNISH, M.D., Preventive Med. Research Inst: You really can
eat more and weigh less, if you know what to eat.
TALBOT: All claim they have the secret to
health and weight loss.
J. KENNEY, Pritikin Longevity Center: The Pritikin diet is basically a
TALBOT: All claim they can help transform us
from the way we are to the way we want to be as quickly and painlessly as
possible. I've never thought about
going on a diet. I figured some
day, I'd get around to it, eat a few less French fries or something. But I do have a nagging feeling that it
would probably be good for my health.
camera] I'm here to see Dr. Robinson, please.
TALBOT: Steve Talbot.
RECEPTIONIST: OK, Stephen.
TALBOT: [voice-over] It's one thing to talk about America's
weight problem. It's harder to
parade your own.
NURSE: You're 210.
TALBOT: [on camera] Glad I took those shoes off.
NURSE: I'll let Dr. Robinson know that you're here.
TALBOT: OK. Thanks very much.
[voice-over] I thought I'd be a few pounds over,
nothing much to worry about.
Dr. ROBINSON: Mr. Talbot? Hello.
STEPHEN TALBOT: Hi. How are you?
Dr. ROBINSON: I'm Dr. Robinson.
STEPHEN TALBOT: Oh. Nice to meet you.
Dr. ROBINSON: Very nice to meet you.
STEPHEN TALBOT: How are you?
Dr. ROBINSON: How are you?
STEPHEN TALBOT: I'm OK.
Dr. ROBINSON: Good.
STEPHEN TALBOT: I'm OK.
Dr. ROBINSON: Good.
STEPHEN TALBOT: Yeah.
Dr. ROBINSON: Are you familiar with the body mass
STEPHEN TALBOT: I've heard of it. I've heard of it.
Dr. ROBINSON: That's a number that we're using a lot
more these days. And basically,
this is an estimate of your body fat in relation to your height and weight. What we do now is calculate the body
mass index using this chart. And
we can see that your height is 5 feet, 11 inches, or 71 inches, and your weight
is 210 pounds, which means that your body mass index is approximately 29.
STEPHEN TALBOT: Right.
Dr. ROBINSON: And that puts you in a category of
being considered overweight, normal being less than 25.
STEPHEN TALBOT: Kind of high overweight, it looks like.
Dr. ROBINSON: Well, you're getting close to the level
of being obese.
STEPHEN TALBOT: Ouch! I mean, I got to say, I don't feel bad. I feel pretty good. But what are the health things that I
should worry about?
Dr. ROBINSON: Right. Well, that's a good question.
TALBOT: [voice-over] Dr. Robinson then proceeded to list a
series of horrible diseases I might contract.
Dr. ROBINSON: Heart disease, stroke, adult onset
diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoarthritis and certain types of cancer. Those are just a few of the things that
we associate with being overweight.
STEPHEN TALBOT: [on camera] Wow.
Dr. ROBINSON: What we'd like to do is check on your
STEPHEN TALBOT: Right.
Dr. ROBINSON: And also blood glucose--
STEPHEN TALBOT: OK.
Dr. ROBINSON: --to make sure that you've not become
STEPHEN TALBOT: All right.
Dr. ROBINSON: I'll be back in one moment.
STEPHEN TALBOT: OK. Thanks.
Dr. ROBINSON: OK.
TALBOT: [voice-over] Nearly 55 years old, and I'd just been
told I was on the verge of obesity. I had heard the statistic that two thirds of Americans are
overweight. I just never realized
I was one of them. I don't know
what happened. Growing up in the
1950s, no one seemed to care that much about weight. In real life, as much as in the world of Leave It to
no one seemed to worry about eating too much.
was actually part of this world.
It to Beaver"]
BILLINGSLEY: Beaver, Gilbert's here!
TALBOT: That's me, playing Gilbert, Beaver's
told me to be sure and not ask for any junk to eat, but she said it'd be OK if
you offered me some.
BILLINGSLEY: Well, there's plenty of cookies and
fruit and things in the kitchen. And don't stay too late, Gilbert. You boys behave yourselves.
TALBOT: You needn't worry about me, Mrs.
Cleaver. My dad already yelled at
me before I left the house.
1950s was a time when almost any food was considered OK. I remember seeing films at school that
urged us all to clean our plates.
BOY: Judy and Hank want me to stay for dinner. Is it all right with you? Oh, gee, thanks! Bye!
ANNOUNCER: Eating with others is fun.
TALBOT: But around 1960, some scientists began
to argue Americans were eating too much animal fat and cholesterol. Take a look at this old CBS documentary
about Ancel Keyes, one of the first scientists to warn that fatty diets could
lead to heart disease.
[CBS News "The Search," 1958]
KEYES: You know the chief killer of Americans
is cardiovascular disease, disorders and degeneration of the heart and blood
vessels. Of 10 men, we can expect
5 to get it.
TALBOT: That's not going to happen to me, not
if I can help it. I'm going to
exercise, and I'm going to find the right diet plan. I've come to Florida, to the mecca of low-fat diets, the Pritikin
camera] You know, for a layperson like me, I
know nothing about anything of this stuff. What's the basic thing to know about Pritikin? What is it? What's the diet?
J. KENNEY, Pritikin Longevity Center: Well, the Pritikin diet is basically a healthy diet. I mean, Pritikin didn't start as a
weight-loss program, it started as a way to reverse heart disease, high blood
TALBOT: [voice-over] This is Dr. James Kenney, Pritikin's
chief nutritionist. The diet
certainly looks like it's working for him.
J. KENNEY: It's mostly a lot of fruits,
vegetables, whole grains, beans, a little bit of seafood, some non-fat dairy
products and some soy milk.
TEACHER: Welcome to cooking class today. My name's Drew, for those of you who
don't know me. We're going to do--
TALBOT: Pritikin works hard to convince you
that eating an ultra-low-fat diet can be palatable.
TEACHER: We're going to show you how simple it
is to make a beautiful Pritikin fish.
TALBOT: I watched a cooking class where they
showed us how to braise a fish with no oil.
TEACHER: It's going to sear and brown, as well.
J. KENNEY: What makes eating healthy in America
difficult is that most restaurant food, particularly fast food restaurant food,
is designed to make people fat and sick.
TALBOT: The clients here pay a lot, $3,000 a
week, to eat less in the hope that they will lose weight and stave off heart
disease. The food looks great, but
the portions are tiny. I don't
know how I could survive on this.
J. KENNEY: It's still really a matter of
discipline. You're going to have
to change your eating habits. You're going to have to exercise more than most people feel like. But the nice thing about it is the more
you do it, the easier it gets and the better you feel. And as a side effect, you don't have to
worry so much about heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
TALBOT: In the Pritikin gym, a real-life retired
drill sergeant puts paying clients through agony. I know there's an easier way.
there anyone who hasn't heard about the Atkins diet? It tells you to eat all the fat you want. It's been around since the 1970s, but
it only really caught fire in the last few years.
"Larry King Live"]
CALLER: I know that you can eat eggs and protein on your diet. Why not any milk?
ROBERT ATKINS: Well, milk has got lactose in it. Whenever you hear--
TALBOT: And that was when Dr. Robert Atkins
became a media celebrity.
ROBERT ATKINS: And that's--
KING, Host: Skim milk, too?
TALBOT: What took everyone aback was he said
keep the fat but hold the fruit -- too much sugar -- lay off the carbs, no
starches, no rice, no bread, no pasta.
ROBERT ATKINS: So cream is about the one thing that
the cow puts out that doesn't have carbohydrate.
KING: So if you would have-- you don't have
cereal, do you.
ROBERT ATKINS: Well, there are some low-carbohydrate
cereals now, and I will--
KING: You put sweet cream on it?
ROBERT ATKINS: And I mix it with heavy cream. Yes, I do, sir.
KING: That sounds-- it sounds--
ROBERT ATKINS: Delicious!
KING: --fattening. Oh, it's delicious--
ROBERT ATKINS: Delicious!
SANDONATO, Atkins Dieter: So I bought
the book, and I'm, like, "No way!" Like, I can't have bacon and eggs for breakfast and, you know, like,
something really cool for lunch and, like-- like, a prime rib for dinner and,
like-- and lose weight. It-- it's
TALBOT: [on camera] When was this?
SANDONATO: This was a little over a year ago.
TALBOT: Wow. So this is-- this is you?
SANDONATO: Yeah, that's me.
TALBOT: I mean, that's amazing.
SANDONATO: Big girl.
TALBOT: Hard to recognize you now.
[voice-over] Lisa Sandonato says she's tried lots of
diets, but she lost 45 pounds on Atkins and enjoyed every minute of it.
SANDONATO: You know what I like the best about
Atkins? It's that I can get a big
two-pound lobster with a big thing of butter on it and just sit there and go,
"Ha, ha, ha." And I see all my
little Weight Watcher friends sitting there counting their chicken points. Like, "Yeah, go ahead. Take the skin off, too. Don't forget to take the skin off. You can give it to me. I'll have that."
TALBOT: The Atkins diet defies common
sense. One man who wanted to test
it was science journalist Gary Taubes.
TAUBES, Science Journalist: I tried it,
and it was amazing, you know? It's
everything-- the 20 pounds that I'd never been able to lose in six weeks, and
stopped exercising, you know? It
was kind of a surreal experience and probably, in a sense, informed my opinions
from there on in. I mean, after
that happens, you say, "I want to know what's happening, and I want to know
TALBOT: In 2002, Taubes published an incendiary
New York Times Magazine article.
TAUBES: I got crucified in a variety of
publications. A Washington Post reporter went after
me. The Center for Science and the
Public Interest went after me. I've had friends who have accused me of having a brain transplant
because suddenly I turned around and said maybe low-fat diets don't work and
maybe low-carbohydrate diets are the answer.
TALBOT: By criticizing low-fat diets, Taubes
had committed nutritional heresy.
NESTLE, New York University: That particular article has absolutely ruined my life as a
nutritionist! I can't go anywhere
without being asked about it. And
it attracted so much attention that I think it's really caused the nutrition
community to stand up and take notice.
TALBOT: The Atkins diet contradicted everything
that nutritionists and the government had been telling people for decades. The USDA food pyramid recommends that
people fill up on carbs, like pasta, bread and potatoes, and avoid forbidden
foods like steak and cheese.
NESTLE: Well, I think the Atkins diet is
popular because it waves a magic wand and it says everything that was bad for
you is now good for you. What the
Atkins diet does is to lower caloric intake. In fact, all diets lower caloric intake. The question is whether it's healthy in
the long run and whether it's sustainable. And I think the jury's still out on that one.
ROBERT ATKINS: Eighty-five percent of those people
didn't need a bypass after they went on our program.
TALBOT: The diet wars had become so contentious
that in 2000, the USDA put all the diet gurus in one room to thrash out an
agreement about what we should be eating.
AYOOB, M.D.: He said he's working on the data, but
he's been making this claim for a long time, and that's what--
ROBERT ATKINS: No, I haven't.
KEITH-THOMAS AYOOB: Excuse me.
ROBERT ATKINS: But I haven't been making--
KEITH-THOMAS AYOOB: Excuse me!
ROBERT ATKINS: --that claim.
KEITH-THOMAS AYOOB: You just did, and you don't have the
ROBERT ATKINS: Before.
KEITH-THOMAS AYOOB: --to back it up. Now, this diet's been out there for 30
years, or close to 30 years--
ROBERT ATKINS: And I haven't been able to fund a
study-- I've asked and asked--
KEITH-THOMAS AYOOB: Excuse me! Excuse me!
ROBERT ATKINS: --and asked.
KEITH-THOMAS AYOOB: Ten million books in print, and you
can't fund a study?
ROBERT ATKINS: Now I can. And I will be the first doctor--
KEITH-THOMAS AYOOB: Excuse me!
ROBERT ATKINS: --to dig into his own pocket to do a
TALBOT: Agriculture secretary Dan Glickman
tried in vain to keep the peace.
GLICKMAN, Harvard University Institute of Politics: I'm reminded-- I think it was H.L. Mencken who once said for every
complicated problem there is a simple and a wrong solution. And I think that this is-- these are
complicated problems here--
was not a lot of consensus. And I
recall that Dr. Atkins and Dr. Ornish just about went at each other physically.
ORNISH, M.D., Preventive Med. Research Inst.: Now, I'm not
aware of any studies that Dr. Atkins or Dr. Sears have published in any
peer-reviewed journal about anything, ever.
GLICKMAN: It was amusing to me, but I don't know
if it was edifying to the people who buy books and try to find ways to lose
TALBOT: [on camera] Are you actually saying that the Atkins
diet is harmful to your health?
DEAN ORNISH: I think for many people, it's
definitely harmful to their health. And we're seeing-- and it's not just me that's saying that.
TALBOT: In what way? What's the worst thing that can happen?
DEAN ORNISH: The worst thing that can happen is
sudden cardiac death. But even
short of that, the blood flow to the heart is reduced. Your kidney function may be
compromised. Osteoporosis is
TALBOT: [voice-over] But Taubes argues that anti-fat dogma
is more ideology than science.
TAUBES: It's a little frustrating even from my
point of view because no matter how much research you do, you're going after
monolithic dogma, in effect, and dogmas protect themselves.
TALBOT: [on camera] Gary Taubes attacks what he calls the
"low-fat dogma" and says that diets like yours have led Americans to be fatter,
that you're part of the problem.
DEAN ORNISH: Well, it is provocative. It does sell newspapers. And you know, it tells people what they
want to hear, which is also a good way to sell newspapers. You know, it tells people that bacon
and sausage and pork rinds and butter and brie are good for you, and nothing
could be further from the truth.
TALBOT: Brie is not good for me? [laughter] You're killing me here, Dr. Ornish!
The low-fat, low-carb debate]
[voice-over] There was more at stake here than a
food fight between diet gurus. What happened back in the early '90s was the food industry cashed in on
the low-fat craze and started removing fat from our food.
GOLDBERG, Tufts University: Ten or fifteen
years ago, somehow we got this notion that, A-ha, if we take the fat out of
foods, we will be able to reduce the total caloric intake and people will be
able to control their weight. And
so industry got very busy making low-fat, reduced-fat, fat-free products, and
they flooded the marketplace and they flew off the shelves. Industry turns on a dime. They can do things quickly and
resourcefully, and they tried-- they gave it their best shot.
TALBOT: [on camera] I'm a big ice cream guy, so--
HOTCHKISS, Inst. of Food Science, Cornell Univ.: Oh, is that right?
TALBOT: Always have been.
[voice-over] You would think low-fat was not
fattening. Think again. Joe Hotchkiss, head of Cornell's food
science department, showed me what goes into a product like low-fat ice
cream. Turns out it has just as
much sugar as regular ice cream. Their trick is to cut back on fat by using less cream.
HOTCHKISS: All foods are really made of a
combination of four major components: water, carbohydrate, protein and
fats. So you take out the fat in
ice cream, you have to add something back. You can't just simply remove the fat. It's not as easy as that. Typically, we'll replace the fat with
either one of the other three components. And most often, that component is a carbohydrate.
TALBOT: Their recipe replaces the missing fat
with carbohydrate in the form of milk powder and some seaweed extract to help
bind it all together.
Boil and trouble, boil and bubble there--
JOSEPH HOTCHKISS: Exactly.
STEPHEN TALBOT: But no eye of the newt.
JOSEPH HOTCHKISS: Have a taste. I have to send it to the blast freezer to get it frozen.
STEPHEN TALBOT: OK.
JOSEPH HOTCHKISS: But it can be tasted.
STEPHEN TALBOT: All right.
JOSEPH HOTCHKISS: Still creamy.
STEPHEN TALBOT: That's low-fat?
JOSEPH HOTCHKISS: That's low-fat.
STEPHEN TALBOT: Wow.
JOSEPH HOTCHKISS: So in order to really--
STEPHEN TALBOT: That does not taste like low-fat, I got
JOSEPH HOTCHKISS: It's a good formulation.
STEPHEN TALBOT: You fooled me.
[voice-over] But while this ice cream does have less
fat, says Hotchkiss, what he replaced it with has nearly as many calories. And in losing weight, calories are what
really matter. So this isn't
exactly diet food.
HOTCHKISS: If you ask a group of people whether they
would more likely gain weight taking in 3,000 calories in carbohydrates or
3,000 calories in fat, they almost all say, "Well, certainly, you would gain
more weight taking in 3,000 calories as fat," when, in reality, you probably
would have an equal weight gain in both of those categories.
ACTOR: Hey, this yogurt is really something, huh? And it's non-fat! I've been waiting for something like this my whole life, and it's
TALBOT: TV sitcoms like Seinfeld satirized the public's
belief that they could consume all the fat-free products they wanted.
ACTOR: Hey, another round of strawberry for me and my friends!
GOLDBERG: And guess what? People ate in excess. They didn't look at the portion
size. They didn't look at the
calories. They just ate them. And there's no free lunch.
TALBOT: And thus it happened that during the
low-fat era of the '90s, Americans got fatter than ever. By 2001, one third of our population
NESTLE, New York University: The low-fat message was interpreted as if you had a product that was low
in fat, it was good for you, without thinking of calories. The best example is the Snackwell
phenomenon. Snackwell cookies were
advertised as no-fat cookies, but they had almost the same number of
calories. And in fact, if you go
to the store today and look at Oreo cookies, they have a reduced-fat Oreo
cookie that has, I think, only 6 calories less than the regular Oreo cookie.
TALBOT: So if low-fat food is not going to help
me lose weight, what about a diet based on the USDA pyramid, which recommends
eating lots of bread, rice and pasta? That sounds reasonable. Bad
idea, says Harvard nutritionist Walter Willett. Eating too much refined starch is a recipe for disaster.
WILLETT, M.D., Harvard School of Public Health: White bread, white rice, potatoes are
starches that are very rapidly converted to glucose, really pure sugar, and
almost instantly absorbed into the bloodstream.
TALBOT: [on camera] A sugar rush from a potato?
WALTER WILLETT: Actually, you could get a bigger rise
in blood sugar after eating potatoes -- a baked potato, say -- than you do from
eating pure table sugar.
WALTER WILLETT: Really.
TALBOT: That seems pretty extreme. Why is that? Why does that happen?
WALTER WILLETT: When the blood sugar goes skyrocketing
up, the body wants to bring it back down, so our pancreas pumps out a big blast
of insulin. And as a result, the
blood sugar comes crashing down rapidly. And that stimulates hunger.
TALBOT: [voice-over] So eat refined starches, spike your
blood sugar, get hungry, eat more, get fat. That's what happened in the low-fat era. The Atkins diet claimed to solve this
problem. It said you could lose
weight by skipping the bread and satisfying your appetite with protein and
fat. A juicy steak, unlike refined carbs, burns slowly and keeps
you full for longer.
COMMERCIAL: Watching your carbs was never this
easy. Introducing TGI Friday's new
Atkins-approved menu, now--
TALBOT: That's why the Atkins craze is sweeping
COMMERCIAL: --sizzling strip with crumbled bleu
TAUBES, Science Journalist: When you look
at the history of these Atkins-like diets, they all said the subjects didn't
seem to be hungry. Study after
study from, like, the '40s onward-- we put them on the diet, they ate-- if they
eat less calories, they do it because they just don't seem to be hungry.
WALTER WILLETT: What is really important, in the long
run, is how satisfying a food will be. And as it turns out, many high-fat foods, sometimes like meat, but even
think of a handful of nuts, are often very satisfying, even though the physical
amount is not very great.
WAITRESS: OK, there's the iced tea for you.
TALBOT: Great. Thank you.
WAITRESS: Would you like any breadsticks?
STEPHEN TALBOT: No.
WAITRESS: No? Doing OK?
TALBOT: No breadsticks, OK?
[voice-over] I can see the appeal of this low-carb
diet. I have to give up bread, but
I get to eat all those forbidden foods I crave. Why should I even consider going low-fat? But I remembered that conversation I'd
had back in Florida.
camera] You read the Atkins diet, and they say,
"Look, I can lose weight and I get to eat steak." Now, why would I not do that, when Pritikin is saying, "No
steak, low-fat"? Seems a little
hard to stick with.
J. KENNEY: Well, they eat the steak, but they
can't eat the potato with the butter and the sour cream. They can't have the chocolate
cake. They can't have the bread
and butter. I mean, you're
deprived on the Atkins diet, but you do get to eat the steak. The steak is better than the chocolate
cake, as far as your weight is concerned. But both cake and steak are loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol
and they're both going to clog up your arteries. So maybe you're thinner with the steak, but you're still--
you know, what's the point of looking thin in a casket?
[voice-over] The accusations against the Atkins diet
took a controversial turn last year when Dr. Atkins died after he slipped on an
icy street. His medical records,
which were leaked to the press by some of his critics, showed he suffered from
heart disease, aggravated, they say, by his diet.
"Larry King Live"]
KING: Veronica, how did you react when you
first read that?
ATKINS, Widow of Dr. Robert Atkins: Well, I was totally outraged by--
TALBOT: His wife defended him and the company's
reputation, accusing his critics of their own bias.
ATKINS: It was not coronary--
KING: So it was not due to poor eating and
ATKINS: Of course. He didn't have high cholesterol. Of course it wasn't. Of course it wasn't. I
mean, these are enemies of Bob's that are-- that are ultra-ultra vegetarians,
and they-- they just hate the idea that somebody eats meat.
TALBOT: But nothing, it seems, can stop the
Atkins craze, what ad people now are calling the "low-carb revolution."
back in his lab, Dr. Hotchkiss is taking the carbs out of food, just as he once
removed fat. This is a low-carb
snack made almost entirely of whey protein. Take it from me, it tastes dreadful.
this leaves me with a culinary conundrum. If fats can clog up my arteries and refined carbs leave me hungry, what
am I supposed to eat? There aren't
many reliable studies out there. One of the few comes from Harvard. Back in the '70s, researchers began recording the lifetime diets of
thousands of health professionals, noting what diseases they contracted. And after 20 years of research, here's
the deal. Not all fats are
bad. Saturated animal fats are
linked to heart disease and cancer, but unsaturated vegetable and fish oils
actually protect people. When the
food industry removed these healthy fats from salad dressings, they made
matters worse, not better.
WILLETT, M.D., Harvard School of Public Health: The crusade against fat really led the
food industry to produce all these fat-free salad dressing products. And the problem is that the fats that
were in the salad dressings were the healthy fats, the ones you should be
including in the diet. So people
were giving up these healthy fats, and what we've seen is actually an increase
in risk of heart disease among people avoiding full-fat salad dressings.
TALBOT: [on camera] OK, now, in the great tradition of
American reporting, I'll focus this all on myself. I love nuts. And everyone tells me-- my wife harasses me. She's got great advice on most things, but she says, "Don't
eat nuts. Lay off nuts." You're my only hope.
WALTER WILLETT: OK. Well, let me help out because nuts are really one of the
neglected health foods on the American grocery store shelves. They've been given a bad rap by
nutritionists because they are high in fat. Most of the calories in nuts are from fat. but it's almost
all healthy fats. And what we've
seen, interestingly, study after study, is that people who eat more nuts do not
weight more than people who don't eat nuts, and it's probably because even a
small amount can be very satisfying.
TALBOT: [voice-over] The Harvard study found that not all
carbs are bad, either. Slowly digested
unrefined carbs, like brown bread or brown rice, are filling and nutritious.
now, most diet programs have gotten this "good fats, good carbs" message, and I
was leaning in that direction myself. But first I wanted to speak with the author of the most popular diet of
the moment, the South Beach Diet. Now, there's a marketing brand, with its promise of slender bodies on
camera] In my college athlete days, I was about
165. Last 10 years, I think I went
from 190 to 210. What would you
say to someone like me?
AGATSTON, M.D., Author, The South Beach Diet: Well, your story is really quite
typical of American Baby Boomers. It's very predictable. And
the more that you've had adult weight gain and the more it's been central weight
gain, the more predictable it is that the South Beach diet will work for you.
Read the extended interview]
TALBOT: [voice-over] Everybody thinks their diet is best,
but Agatston is this year's winner. South Beach
now outsells Atkins's Diet Revolution.
ARTHUR AGATSTON: I give Dr. Atkins credit for teaching
us that fat doesn't necessarily make us fat, and he was absolutely right. And there's been an evolution. The Zone Diet was an advance, I think,
over Atkins. I think Sugar
is an excellent book. But I think
the basic principles that good fats are good for you and the good carbohydrates
are good for you, and the processed ones are not-- I think that's current
consensus of opinion.
WAITRESS: Here's the Atkins salmon for you.
WAITRESS: Would you like any breadsticks with that?
TALBOT: No. No breadsticks.
TALBOT: [voice-over] So the truth is, all these diet
programs are not as different as they claim. At Friday's, they call it an Atkins meal, but really, this
salmon and broccoli would be fine on South Beach, Pritikin or Ornish. And they all agree that if I eat like
this, the pounds will start dropping off me.
even I do lose weight, what are my chances of keeping it off?
HILL, U. of Colorado Health Sciences Ctr.: Keep in mind that somewhere between 80 and 95 percent of people in your
situation will regain it.
TALBOT: This is James Hill from the University
of Colorado. He's a diet skeptic.
camera] Can I do it?
HILL: Can you do it? The statistics would say no. The problem is, we go on a, say,
low-carb diet and it's great and we lose weight and we're doing fine. And then we start craving those
carbohydrates. And what we do is
not to transition over to a better diet, we sort of say, "OK, I can't do this
anymore. I'm going to give
up. I'm going to go back to the
way I ate before." And voila, the
weight comes back.
TALBOT: [voice-over] I'm not sure I want to hear all
this. If he's right, then all
diets, from low-fat to low-carb, are really just gimmicks. They work at first by limiting variety,
but over time, tofu and eggplant's not going to cut it, not for me. Odds are I'll give in to temptation and
gain back what I lost.
that's what had brought me to Weight Watchers. Here you can find people who have defied the experts and
kept the weight off for a very long time.
WATCHERS EMCEE: Tell us what you lost.
DIETER: 135 pounds.
TALBOT: [on camera] What is it about Weight Watchers that
sets it aside and that worked for
you, whereas other diets didn't?
KENNY, Weight Watchers Dieter: It's a whole lifestyle change, it's not a diet. It's a commitment to eat right for the
rest of your life, to watch portion sizes, watch what you eat, make sure that
you exercise. So it's not just a
diet that you go on, you lose the weight and then you go-- slide back to your
old eating habits, and pretty soon, the weight comes back on and more.
WATCHERS EMCEE: Eileen and Laura, do you two know each
DIETER: Yes. Yes.
WATCHERS EMCEE: Absolutely. So how much did you lose?
WATCHERS EMCEE: 115, 105-- wow! So has there ever been a time that you
just wanted to chuck it?
DIETER: Many times.
WATCHERS EMCEE: Many times? OK.
DIETER: But she wouldn't let me.
WATCHERS EMCEE: What a good friend!
DIETER: I'll tell you!
DIETER: Yeah, because I'm not quitting, so she's not quitting.
WATCHERS EMCEE: OK!
DIETER: We're doing it together.
TALBOT: These success stories prove that
long-term major weight loss is possible-- if you don't mind feeling like you're
in a 12-step program.
WATCHERS EMCEE: And that's what the support is all
about. How much did you lose?
DIETER: 200 and counting.
TALBOT: But few people have the discipline to
keep it off, even in the supportive atmosphere of Weight Watchers. And that, scientists say, is what makes
America's weight problem so very serious. It's an issue, i realized, that totally eclipses my own quest to lose weight.
HILL, U. of Colorado Health Sciences Ctr.: This is the public health issue of our generation. You see, 65 percent of Americans are
overweight or obese.
WATCHERS EMCEE: You're an inspiration to everyone in
this room. So thank you.
HILL: If you look at our ancestors, what they
desired more than anything else was to have a constant source of food that was
good-tasting and inexpensive and did not have to work very hard. And in fact, if you fast-forward to
today, that's the environment we've got. Everywhere you go in America, it's OK to have food. It's OK to have food in your car. It's OK to eat at your desk. What's amazing is that people can
actually live in this environment and not become obese.
NESTLE, New York University: We're seeing an epidemic of obesity that is occurring so rapidly that
the Centers for Disease Control can track it from year to year, and does so on
those beautiful maps on its Web site.
TALBOT: Since 1985, the CDC has been tracking
the fattening of America. Just
look at what's happened to us, obesity rates rising year by year, state by
state, unchecked by diet fads or government food pyramids. And now it's spreading to the rest of
camera] Do you notice in England that people
are getting bigger or not?
FERGUSON, Weight Watchers Spokeswoman: No
question about it. It's now talked
about on a daily basis. We-- you
know, they always go, "Well, we're not as big as the Americans." And I say, "Well, incorrect. You are now very close. And when are you going to wake up?"
we talk in a minute about weight and about diet--
is time we talked more and more about educating our children in nutrition. And unless the government really take
it seriously, they are going to have a monster problem in years to come-- the
health care bills the hospitals. And
it's just-- where is this generation going to go?
TALBOT: [voice-over] Fergie has a point. Even if you're not worried about the
size of your own belly, you have to worry about the fate of your children and
David Ludwig runs an obesity clinic in Boston for overweight children like
LUDWIG, M.D., Children's Hospital, Boston: One of the
things we worry most about is something called type 2 diabetes, and we're
seeing this in teenagers. We never
saw this before. This used to be
TALBOT: What we're
HILL, U. of Colorado Health Sciences Ctr.: What we're seeing in kids is astonishing. Type 2 diabetes, which is a devastating disease that
traditionally has developed in overweight people who are in their 50s and 60s
and 70s, we're seeing it in 14-year olds. We have no idea what that's going to do to the lifespan of a
14-year-old. We're seeing the
beginnings of heart disease in 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds.
More on the diet/disease connection]
TALBOT: Rose badly wants to avoid this fate for
her 10-year-old daughter, Ayana.
DAVID LUDWIG: Tell me what's concerned you about her
ROSE: The question about her weight is, like, if she's going with that weight,
she's going to be having all kind of problem, you know, over--
MUST, Tufts Univ. School of Medicine: There was a projection published last summer by the CDC that suggested
that for a child born in the year 2000, they faced a 50 percent lifetime risk of
developing diabetes. So that means
that one child in two, over their lifetime, would become diabetic. And diabetes is a very, very serious
disease. It is associated with
cardiovascular risk, with blindness, with amputation, with renal failure. So it's-- it will definitely overwhelm
our health care system.
DAVID LUDWIG: You know how your mom and dad are a
little bit heavy? Well, you might
have gotten that tendency from them. But genes aren't the whole story. How do we know that? In
America, everybody is much heavier than we were 30 years ago, but our genes
haven't changed. Tell me what you
usually have for lunch.
ROSE: Sometime I make-- I make them a sandwich, they don't want it. They just bring it back the same way
they bring it.
DAVID LUDWIG: So what do you eat?
AYANA: I usually buy ice cream or cookies.
DAVID LUDWIG: That could be lunch. But you're probably hungry-- get hungry
in the afternoon. What do you have
for the afternoon?
DAVID LUDWIG: Cookies?
ROSE: And eat-- and have some milk.
DAVID LUDWIG: All right. Then what's for dinner?
ROSE: Rice, chicken.
DAVID LUDWIG: OK.
ROSE: But she doesn't like it. Sometimes she doesn't eat it.
DAVID LUDWIG: Do you eat any vegetables?
ROSE: I give her the vegetables. She eat not much.
DAVID LUDWIG: Not much vegetables.
TALBOT: The schools aren't doing much
better. At this middle school,
there are a few supposedly healthy lunch choices, but most kids go for the
artery-clogging pizza and hunger-inducing chips.
WILLETT, M.D. Harvard School of Public Health: The food industry has invested many
tens of billions of dollars in making their products more attractive, more
sweet, more salty, more sexy, more seductive in every way that they can. And we're vulnerable to that promotion,
and we are eating more.
NESTLE: And they do that not only through
advertising and marketing, but also by enormous efforts to change the social
environment so that it is now socially acceptable for children to drink soft
drinks in school and all day long and for people to snack all day long and eat
food in larger and larger portions.
TALBOT: And it's not just how much junk food
kids eat, it's how little they move. It's a different world from the one I grew up in 45 years ago.
["Leave It to Beaver"]
MATHERS: Hi, Gilbert.
TALBOT: Hi, Beave.
MATHERS: How come you didn't ring the doorbell?
TALBOT: Well, I didn't know if you were home,
and I didn't want to talk to any grown-ups.
was a certain lifestyle that was portrayed in the show. It's become a cliche, but actually, it
mirrored my own kind of family, where kids, for instance, were very, very
active. It was a very active life.
HILL, U. of Colorado Health Sciences Ctr.: It really was. And think
about it. You didn't have video
games. You didn't have CDs. You had a TV, but you probably only got
three stations and two of them didn't come in that good, and there wasn't that
TALBOT: It was black and white.
HILL: So it was easy to go outside.
WALTER WILLETT: When I was young and came home after
school, we'd all go out and play and our mothers would have to drag us in for
dinner. That doesn't happen very
often anymore. Often, the mothers
are not there. Kids are
inside. The television is used as
HILL: But I think your question goes even
deeper and illustrates that obesity is a societal issue. Let's go back to that lifestyle. That lifestyle is: You have time to be
June Cleaver and take two hours and fix a nice, healthy meal. The family comes together in the
evening. Dinner's on the table. We've lost that as our life gets busy
and both parents are working and the kids, you know, rarely are together to
eat. And so I think part of what's
resulted in obesity is the fact that our society values have changed over time
in this information age.
TALBOT: Golly, Beave, I didn't think it was
going to happen so quick!
MATHERS: Me neither. Thanks a lot, Mom.
TALBOT: [voice-over] There's an unsettling sequel to all
ANNOUNCER: Jerry Mathers, formerly known as "the Beaver," for Jenny Craig.
MATHERS: Recently, my doctor said, "You have to
lose weight or you won't be around to see your daughters get married."
TALBOT: My friend, Jerry Mathers, put on so
much weight he became a diet spokesman.
MATHERS: I lost 35 pounds. Now I can wait for my kids to get
TALBOT: But Jerry has struggled to keep it off
and even developed diabetes. That
got my attention. And it should
scare America, too, because if Beaver and Gilbert are at risk, the prognosis
looks far, far worse for today's kids, who watch hours of TV a day. In fact, as a society, we are now so
sedentary that we can get fat even without overeating.
MUST, Tufts Univ. School of Medicine: The notion that you have to overeat a lot of calories in order to gain
weight is actually not true, and it's somewhat surprising to people. To gain a pound a year, which doesn't
seem like much, you would only have to eat in excess of maybe 40 or 50 calories
a day. Well, if you gain an excess
pound a year, that's 10 pounds a decade, or 30 pounds from the time you're 20
to the time you're 50. And that
would put you into the overweight or even the obese range.
Test your nutrition knowledge]
TALBOT: That's probably what happened to
me. It's all rather
depressing. Everything in the
modern world, it seems, conspires to make us overweight.
James Hill thinks he sees a way out. His organization, America on the Move, is taking steps to fight the
fattening of America.
HILL: If you can modify your energy balance
by only 100 calories a day, if you could do that, A, you would stop weight gain
with that simple little change. Now you go on and do some small changes to begin losing weight.
TALBOT: And to help us make that change, Hill
is promoting a simple gadget called the pedometer.
HILL: Let's see how many steps we have here.
TALBOT: [on camera] All right. You're doing OK for the week.
HILL: You can strap on this simple little
device -- costs less than 20 bucks, very cheap -- and it tells you how many steps
you take. And that gives you a
goal. You're taking 4,000 steps
now? You can set your goal at
6,000, and at the end of the day, you can look and see if you made it.
TALBOT: [voice-over] It might just catch on because
Americans love gadgets and they love to keep score.
INSTRUCTOR: So how many steps did everyone do
today? Lots of steps? Lots of steps. I think it takes, what, 1,800 steps to
burn off a Big Mac.
TALBOT: Here at Denver's Rising Star Church,
some of the congregation have joined Hill's war on obesity.
HILL: We started one of the initiatives in
black churches very early on, and the reason we did it is because they came to
us. And they said, "Look, when it
comes to obesity, we've got it all."
TALBOT: Exercise doesn't bring about rapid
weight loss, like crash diets, but Hill says it's essential for maintaining a
healthy weight. Americans don't
move much, only about 4,000 steps a day. But Hill's research shows to keep weight off requires over 10,000 steps
daily. That's five miles, way
beyond what most people are willing to do. So America on the Move set a more modest goal, an extra
2,000 steps a day, about a mile.
they are beginning with the schools, where the trend has been to save money by
cutting out physical education. At
this middle school, the 7th graders take part in a 12-minute run and seem to
enjoy it. Even though this is a
showcase program, the sad part is that the kids run only once a week.
FLOWERS, Teacher, No. Arvada Middle School: Five, four,
three, two, one--
TALBOT: But I guess once is better than
nothing. Just imagine if every
American child did a 12-minute run every day. That might, over time, begin to reverse America's obesity
FLOWERS: How many of you got 3,000 steps with
that run, 4,000, 5,000? Nice work!
really believe that there needs to be K through 12 physical education
daily. We need to get these kids
so that when they graduate from high school, they can be their own personal
TALBOT: Meanwhile, the fast food industry is
already coopting the promise of exercise.
COMMERCIAL: All of a sudden, people are loving
taking that extra step, going that extra mile, because now McDonald's has the new
Go Active Happy Meal-- a bottle of water, your choice of salads, like the new
Del Rio, and your very own step-o-meter.
MUST: I do think that the food companies
understand that they're going to have to be sincere participants in dealing
with this problem. I'm not naive
enough to think that they're going to do it on their own with out a strong prod
from the government and from regulatory agencies.
GLICKMAN, Harvard University Institute of Politics: Food is such an enormous part of our
culture in this country. That's
why the issue is so complicated to deal with, why it's so hard to pin your
finger on a culprit here. The food
industry is partly responsible. The government could be doing a lot better, as well. The schools could be doing better. But frankly, as Pogo said, we have met
the enemy and he is us.
TALBOT: Tonight I'm celebrating my 55th
birthday. It's been two months
since I started my diet, and tonight I can drink a little wine. But I won't touch the white bread
because, I'll 'fess up, I've been on my own version of a good-fat, good-carb
diet. The first two weeks were
brutal. I gave up all potatoes,
pasta and rice, all fruits, desserts and alcohol. But now in phase two of my diet, I'm allowing myself a
little -- a very little -- of the occasional forbidden food. My plan is to stick to this as long as
I can. I've been eating less and
exercising more, exactly what my wife's been telling me to do for years. She was right about everything. Except the nuts. So tonight I'm on my best behavior
because tomorrow I have a date with the doctor.
camera] All right, so because my day of
reckoning is tomorrow on the scale, I am only allowed two bites. Here goes. Is that good!
[voice-over] Two months ago, I was 210 pounds. It's time to find out how much weight
NURSE: And you want to stand up really straight.
TALBOT: All right. Wow.
ROBINSON: You've lost 15 pounds.
ROBINSON: So that puts you around 27, and so you're
now in the mid-range of being overweight.
TALBOT: It's still overweight.
TALBOT: And I could still afford to lose some
ROBINSON: Right. Right. And do
you have plans to work on that?
TALBOT: I do.
TALBOT: I mean, I-- you know, I definitely want
to get to 190, which would be 20 pounds down.
TALBOT: And I think, you know, on this chart,
to really get on the BMI to normal, they're saying at 5-11, I should be, like,
180 pounds, right?
ROBINSON: Actually, fall within the normal limit,
TALBOT: Wow. Wow.
TALBOT: [voice-over] That's worse than I thought. I have more than 20 pounds to go.
camera] Well, I'm going to continue to lose
some weight and watch it.
TALBOT: I mean, I don't think I'm going to do
any kind of rapid descent anymore--
ROBINSON: Right. Right.
TALBOT: --but I think I'm going to continue to
ROBINSON: Right. Yeah.
[voice-over] Don't let the diet books fool you. Getting down to a normal weight ain't
that easy. But there's some hope. For the first time in ages, I'm exercising
regularly. With the help of my new
puppy, I now average over three miles a day. And I've got to admit, the less I weigh, the easier it gets. I've learned that all diets are
ultimately gimmicks. They give you
a quick hit of weight loss, but after that, it's just common sense: Eat healthy
food in moderation, and get up off the couch.
not the kind of message that sells a lot of diet books. Nobody ever got rich marketing
self-control. But something's
happening lately. We seem to be
talking about all this more. It
sure got the attention of the food industry and the government, which has
warned that obesity will soon pass smoking as the leading cause of preventable
death. I wonder if we've all got
what it takes to stop the fattening of America.
HILL: I'm an optimist. You know, in 1950, if somebody had
said, "Oh, we're going to get Americans to quit smoking," I mean, people would
have said, "Oh, you're crazy. There's no hope." We're at
a very critical stage right now. We're at the stage where we know it's an issue. We know we have to do something. I think we're going to be judged by
future generations on our actions within the next few years, in terms of how we
begin to deal with this problem.
WRITTEN, PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY:
ADDITIONAL FIELD DIRECTING
Jed Schwartz Productions, Inc.
Michael H. Amundson
ON AIR PROMOTION
Michael H. Amundson
Erin Martin Kane
FOUNDATION GRANT MANAGER
WEBSITE EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS
Louis Wiley Jr.
A FRONTLINE Coproduction with Palfreman Film Group
WGBH EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely
responsible for its content.
ANNOUNCER: Visit FRONTLINE's Web site for more on
this report, including a reporter's notebook from correspondent Steve Talbot
detailing his foray into the diet wars, a chronology of Americans' changing
relationship with food over the past century, a closer look at the public
health implications of the obesity epidemic, a quiz to test your diet and nutrition
knowledge, plus extended interviews and streaming video of the full
program. Then join the discussion
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