fat
Synopsis
The following comments appeared in FRONTLINE's documentary FAT
MODERN LIFE'S IMPACT ON WEIGHT AND HEALTH

CATHERINE STEINER-ADAIRE Harvard Eating Disorders Center
It's crazy-making. It's absolutely crazy making. People are bombarded with messages - Eat this, eat this, eat this, eat, eat, eat, eat! Whether it's good or bad, eat! Then on the other hand, they are told - Be healthy, don't eat.

PROFESSOR KELLY BROWNELL Professor of Psychology, Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale University, and Director of the Yale University Center for Eating and Weight Disorders
Unlike any time in history, we are exposed to an environment where food is widely available, heavily promoted, available at low cost and it tastes good.

DR. GEORGE COWAN Baptist Memorial Hospital
We live in a food toxic environment. We don't live in a normal environment like people lived in a century or two centuries ago, where you had to go out and really labor for your food and continue laboring and burning those calories and get precious little food in return, in most times. Today it's all over.

DR. WALTER WILLET Harvard School of Pubic Health
The transition of food to being an industrial product really has been a fundamental problem. First, the actual processing has stripped away the nutritional value of the food. Most of the grains have been converted to starches. We have sugar in concentrated form and many of the fats have been concentrated, and then worse of all, hydrogenated which creates trans fatty acids with very adverse effects on health.

Ideals of Feminine Beauty

DR. STEVEN BLAIR Director of Epidemiology & Clinical Applications Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research
The ideal has come to a point that hardly anyone can achieve it, no matter what they do, and I think particularly it is worse for women than it is for men, that the ideals of feminine beauty that we see in the movies and in the magazines and that sort of thing are just impossible for most women to achieve.

PROFESSOR KELLY BROWNELL Professor of Psychology, Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale University, and Director of the Yale University Center for Eating and Weight Disorders
I feel it is totally unfair that we are raising generation after generation of young people, especially women, to be at war with their own bodies. I am very concerned about my own daughter, Christie, who is 9 years old. She is to the point now where she likes her body. She's athletic and she climbs trees and runs and plays games and really enjoys herself, and her body is her friend. But it's beginning to change, because she is now comparing herself to models that she sees in magazines and she is comparing herself to Barbie dolls and things like that and doing so unfavorably. I start to see hints of it right now. If she is the typical young female, the war with her body will begin at puberty.

IS THERE AN IDEAL WEIGHT

DR. STEVEN BLAIR Director of Epidemiology & Clinical Applications Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research
I don't like the term ideal weight. I don't think we know what any person's ideal weight is. Human beings come in different sizes and shapes. On any characteristic you care to name, there's tremendous variations from eye color to hair color -- for those who have hair and those who don't have hair -- and we vary. Some of us are short and stocky. Some are tall and skinny. So to claim that some formula can produce a so-called ideal weight that we can then apply to an individual I think is faulty logic.

... Surprisingly, we found that the men who were fat but who were also fit, actually had no increased mortality rate. In fact the fat, fit men had far lower death rates than the normal weight men who were unfit. So the bottom line in this research, at least in this set of observations, is that lack of fitness seems to be much more important than fatness, as a predicator of which men were going to die during this eighth year follow up.

The Role of Biology and Genetics

PROFESSOR PHILIP JAMES Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen
Fat is a very precious commodity in the world that we emerged from in the African jungle, where people lived on fruit and berries and wild game, and where there was almost no fat. The choicest foods were the fatty flavorsome foods. And I think that the human brain - many animals as well - have been built to recognize fat, sugar and salt as part of the primeval survival mechanisms. Now we're handicapped, because we have fat everywhere, but we still have those brain mechanisms charging away.

DR. ANDREW PRENTICE Dunn Clinical Nutrition Center, Cambridge
One of the things we've already discovered is that a high fat, high energy-dense diet, which is very prevalent these days has a very powerful effect on misleading our metabolic control processes, and we are trying to find out what it is that goes wrong, why some people simply go haywire when put into conditions of a high fat diet and low physical activity.

DR. GEORGE COWAN Baptist Memorial Hospital
Our obesity is in our stars. We are genetically determined, our size. We know that us guys, we have a bigger belly, that's a genetic thing, part of the Y chromosome. Woman, they have a bigger butt, bigger thighs. Haunch and paunch, if you like. These are endowments which we all agree are genetic, even to the relative distribution of fat. There's only one thing left out, that people somehow do not accept as genetic, and that's the amount of the obesity.

PROFESSOR PHILIP JAMES Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen
There really is increasing evidence of genetic susceptibility to obesity with staggering evidence of individuals having a single dominant gene that's a major problem. We can no longer just say genes are unimportant.

DR. RUDOLPH LEIBEL Division of Molecular Genetics Columbia University
From mice and rats, we have learned that there are single genes that can cause very profound obesity, and we have found in every instance that there is a corresponding gene in humans.

If we went out on the street right now, and I showed you a group of adults with heights ranging from 4 1/2 feet to 6 1/2 feet or 7 feet, you would make no comment about this. It's expected. We all expect to see wide variations in height. We accept that this is due to very strong genetic influences.

My perception of this is that there are equally potent genetic influences on body weight as there are on height. But the population, because of our lack of understanding of all the mechanisms, simply has not come to accept this yet.

DR. STEVEN BLAIR Director of Epidemiology & Clinical Applications Cooper Institute of Aerobic Research
I think I'm probably very well-suited to a life as a serf on the Russian steppes. I am strong. I can work hard. I conserve body mass. I could probably make it through the famine. I'm not quite so well suited to be a scientist, leading an essentially sedentary life, onto which I graft this kind of artificial dose of exercise every day.

WHAT IS THE ADVICE FOR OVERWEIGHT PEOPLE?

PROFESSOR KELLY BROWNELL Professor of Psychology, Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale University, and Director of the Yale University Center for Eating and Weight Disorders
Whether we offer a message of hope or despair depends on a person's goal. If a person's goal is to have the ideal perfect weight, despair is the only outcome, because very few people can attain that. If people's goal is - 'Can I lead a healthier life, can I feel better about myself, have more energy, be healthier, live longer?' - the answer is unquestionably yes. And I think the healthiest, most psychologically adaptive way to approach this is to do the right things in order to control weight. That is, eat a good sensible diet, follow the nutritional guidelines, don't be crazy about it, don't overdo it, don't restrict yourself too severely, but eat a reasonable diet, follow a reasonable exercise program. That doesn't mean you have to become a marathon runner but just follow a reasonable exercise program and just see what happens to your weight.

And for most overweight people those changes alone can lead to dramatic changes in weight. And if people approach this from a healthy point of view, that is they want to be healthier, they want to feel better about themselves and get their mind away from the number on the scale, then they can achieve significant benefit and feel a lot better about themselves, improve their health, improve their self-esteem and improve their health.

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