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Another Take on America’s Obesity Epidemic: A Short Review of Killer at Large

June 27, 2013

KilleratlargeIn 2010, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that one-third of all American adults and nearly 20 percent of American children were obese, the highest obesity prevalence rate of any country in the developed world. The rate has steadily increased since the 1960s, leading many to worry about an “obesity epidemic.”

The film Killer at Large attempts to come to terms with obesity in the United States. It argues that obesity is rooted both in individual choice and behavior (such as food choices, levels of stress, the widespread availability of cheap calories, the addictive nature of sweeteners, and America’s fast food culture), but also remains mindful of the structural features that contribute to the growing levels of obesity described by the CDC. In particular, the film notes a close correlation between increasing corn production in the United States and the rise of obesity, speculating that the cheap calories available through the industrialized food system (and the high levels of both corn and soy embodied in food in that system) contribute to the problem.

The movie also highlights some good examples of obstacles to developing broader solutions. They note, for example, that the least healthy calories in the supermarket are the cheapest. When measured in terms of calories per dollar spent, orange juice is vastly more expensive than coke, and carrots are more expensive than candy bars. The system of subsidizing industrial agriculture (and in particular, of subsidizing corn) creates perverse incentives in our food system.

The film also notes that the US Department of Agriculture’s school lunch program mandates make it difficult to serve healthier lunches. A lunch consisting of processed foods can meet the program’s guidelines more easily than a lunch that includes fruit and a salad, for example.

Killer at Large offers a powerful critique of the perversity of the American food system. Its solutions are a little vague. While it rightly critiques the “exercise it off” approach advocated by the food industry, it argues that most adults are beyond saving, and that we should therefore focus on saving the kids through the school lunch program. What started off as a critique of the structural factors contributing to the poor diets of Americans becomes a call to change the USDA’s school lunch program. And while I agree that the school lunch program is in need of serious revisions, I’m not sure the solution to our food woes begins and ends there. Still, it’s a film worth seeing. The film has a promotional website. The trailer is below, and the complete film is available free on SnagFilms.

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