Jacques Peretti takes on the weight loss industry yet again, with his brand new series. The Men Who Made Us Thin which started by looking at dieting for weight loss and whether it’s actually contributing to the rising numbers of obesity.
NB – In searching round for this programme as of Sprint 2015 – the BBC have restricted access to it on YouTube. The series now costs £195 per episode to buy from the BBC Education Dept (scandalous). So apologies for the adverts here and lack of being able to enlarge the screen, this is due to the restrictions of the only place I could now find this episode being hosted.
Dieting for weight loss
The irony is that these men haven’t delivered on the promise of making us thin at all, and according to recent statistics, obesity affects over 35% of American adults that when combined with the numbers of children brings the overall population affected in at a still staggering 17%.
Yet this is a $20 billion industry built on the back of the prevailing myths we’ve all bought into lock, stock and two smoking barrels worth.
This is documentary-maker Jacques Peretti’s sequel series to The Men Who Made Us Fat, and the first episode shows promise as he highlights the poignant features, through uncomfortable questions, although his feelings about the interviewee are often more obvious. These are the same questions we’ve all wanted answering as the dieting industry continues to flourish with no visible signs of letting up, while the battle with obesity rages on.
Professor Traci Mann
Peretti questions the relationship between dieting and obesity and looks to the University of Minnesota for answers where Psychologist Professor Traci Mann has undertaken the most comprehensive study of commercial weight loss ever made. She researched eating behaviour for the US National Institute Of Health, where they’re examining over 100 clinical trials on dieting undertaken over the last 30-yrs.
From these studies she concluded that diets don’t work if we define that as losing a significant amount of weight and keeping it off.
They found that over 2-5 yrs the amount of weight lost was under 1 kg and one to two thirds of dieters gained more than they lost, over time.
Peretti goes on to mention an experiment that took place over 60-yrs ago, in 1944, also in Minnesota. The University carried out an experiment at it’s football stadium where 36-men volunteered to live on 1500 calories/day for 6-mths. The results were very interesting.
Nutritionist Ancel Keys ran the experiment, where volunteers were placed on a strict diet and exercise regime. The findings showed had both a psychological and behavioural effect on the subjects where one man bit another, many tried to escape from their confinement, and another did grave self-harm that resulted in the loss of three fingers.
But the most surprising thing of all was that once the restriction part of the experiment was over, when they returned to normalised eating they not only put all the weight back on, quickly, but they also put on more weight besides.
Professor Mann considers this to have been the first weight loss / dieting experiment and it lead Keys to conclude that dieting wouldn’t work for the vast majority of people.
Louis Israel Dublin
With similar historical evidence the next obvious question is how did the dieting industry manage to convince us all to believe that dieting was the answer to the growing issue of obesity?
Enter Louis Israel Dublin an American statistician who worked for insurers, Metropolitan Life, and made one tweak (back in the 1940’s) in order to save the company money, that managed to begin the landslide in how we perceive our weight and shape that continues to prey on our calorie counting obsession to this very day.
After studying Metropolitan Life’s 4-million customer database Dublin concluded that if you were overweight you were far more likely to die young. From this he constructed a chart to show the company how much people should weigh to stay within the parameters:
Enter the phrase – Your IDEAL Weight is …
The impact of the Obesity Chart
By keeping your weight within these ranges you have joined those identified by Metropolitan Life Insurance as having less illnesses and longer lives than the general population.
The Obesity Chart, that concluded with the above phrase, skewed all previous beliefs around weight by making the danger zone much lower (for insurance purposes) and half the American population became reclassified as now being overweight and obese.
The chart was based on someone age 25 asserting that as we get older and heavier we become more of a health liability, i.e. a higher insurance risk, even though you may be in perfectly good health
Because Metropolitan Life was a well respected company the charts were then adopted by the medical fraternity, followed closely by the US government, and suddenly mass numbers of people had bought into the idea that they had a weight problem. And this is how America was suddenly decreed to have a massive obesity epidemic on it’s hands.
People began to feel ashamed of their bodies and started looking for ways to address their obesity problems and doctors began telling patients they needed to lose weight.
There was no science behind Dublin’s chart, but a dieting industry boom was about to take centre stage and next time we’ll look at the men and programmes behind that part of the story. Interesting eh?
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