________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 2004


The Weight of the World.

Glynis Whiting (Writer & Director). Tracey Friesen (NFB Producer). Michael Allder (CBC Producer). Michael Allder (CBC Executive Producer). Rina Fraticelli & Graydon McCrea (NFB Executive Producers). David Suzuki (Narrator).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2003.
51 min., VHS, $99.95.
Order Number: C9103 117.

Subject Headings:
Public health.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Lisa O'Hara.

**** /4

This documentary, co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada and CBC's Nature of Things with David Suzuki is a compelling look at the causes of obesity in the world today. The film opens with the startling statement that, for the first time in history, more people are dying of over-nutrition than under-nutrition. Through animated segments and dialogue with experts on diet and exercise, the reasons for the rise in obesity and diseases related to it are examined.

     The main theory advanced in the documentary is that we have created a “toxic world” for ourselves with the availability of cheaper food and more convenience items which, together, cause us to overeat and under-exercise. For example, we are told that, if you have a garage door opener, you walk 3 km less a year than someone who doesn't. The cordless phone causes us to walk 16 km less a year, and the television remote control - the list goes on. Tied in with this, we also have cheaper food, making it seem like a bargain to “super-size” your meal, when, in reality, you are harming yourself through greater consumption of saturated fats and sodium. Another interesting statistic was that standard restaurant plates have grown in size by 60%!

     The car is blamed as the greatest contributor to our “toxic world.” North Americans who live in high-density neighborhoods, rather than in urban sprawl areas, are less likely to be obese because they are more likely to walk. This is directly related to the number of restaurants, stores and markets within walking distance of a person's home, which are not usually found in the suburbs. A new test community called “Burnaby Mountain” in Burnaby, B.C., is being built with Simon Fraser University. In this community, people will be encouraged to walk rather than drive because of the way the roads and housing are designed, and food markets, stores and restaurants will be established before people begin to move into the community, thus giving them the benefits of living in a high-density neighborhood.

     Obesity in children is a major point for discussion in the film. Those who live in poorer neighborhoods are more likely to be obese because there is less fresh food available and it is generally more expensive, situations which cause them to buy over-processed food as the best value for their money. However, it is not only among the poor that this problem occurs. Another statistic shows that children with televisions in their bedrooms are 60% more likely to be obese than children who don't have televisions in their bedrooms.

     The documentary also discusses two communities that are attempting to do something about the problem of obesity. The first community is Sandy Lake, Ontario, which had the third highest rate of Type 2 Diabetes of any community in the world. In order to combat this problem, they have built a 6 km walkway which allows people to walk away from dusty roads and is even a shortcut through the town. They also hold events such as walking poker derbys and have a paid position of Diabetes Prevention Coordinator.

     The second community involves several inner-city schools in Philadelphia. There, the schools are taking a proactive approach to preventing obesity in children by encouraging exercise between classes, integrating good nutrition themes into the curriculum, and partnering with companies who supply food and drinks to the schools.

     This was an intriguing documentary with a wide area of discussion to keep the viewer interested. It should be informative to anyone over 13, although some things may be of more interest to older viewers (especially those who remember a time before garage openers, remote controls and cordless phones). The film uses animated clips to illustrate some of the narration, and there is often black and white footage playing behind an expert talking about a particular issue to illustrate it. The documentary is fast and full of interesting statistics which make viewers question their daily comforts and realize how many routine choices in our consumer culture have a significant impact on our health.

Highly Recommended.

Lisa O'Hara is a librarian and mother of three in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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