OBESITY isn’t caused by lifestyle or greed; that’s the message in a new Aussie doco series, The Obesity Myth.
A team of doctors at Melbourne’s Austin Health Weight Control Clinic — including renowned surgeon Ahmad Aly, brother of The Project’s Waleed Aly — say a genetic predisposition is to blame for our growing obesity crisis.
Their revolutionary treatment program was filmed for the three-part documentary, which aims to challenge preconceptions about the condition.
The team, led by respected endocrinologist Professor Joe Proietto, tells patients their weight problems are not their fault. They are prescribed a strict diet, appetite suppressing medication, and, in some cases, scheduled for bariatric surgery. The clinic is often a last resort for many who have tried — and failed — to gain control of their weight.
Featured in the first episode is ex-taxi driver, Leanne — she’s desperate to get her weight below 200kg, after it spiralled to 254kg.
“Having Joe tell me that there was something medically wrong with me was like opening something on Christmas, and it was the thing that you had been dreaming of getting,” she says in the series.
In episode one she’s pictured looking at ‘fat shaming’ videos on Facebook, commenting that “I could have been one of those people they filmed.”
Karen, who, at her heaviest tipped the scales at 255kg, is also featured, alongside her husband and carer, David.
She speaks candidly about their relationship, and how terrified she of meeting him for the first time after they met online.
“I knew he was short. I knew he was skinny — and I figured I’d break him,” she says in episode one.
Karen also admits to having been badly bullied at school.
The show’s producer Michael Cordell says he has considered that participants might be bullied online when the show goes to air.
“There is a real duty of care around that,” he said. “We have spoken to the participants … and suggested they not be on social media.
“We are making available any counselling, if they have issues when the series goes to air.”
Unlike The Biggest Loser, there are no ‘before and after’ transformations in this series. There’s a sense that participants have a long journey ahead of them — that this isn’t a quick fix.
With two out of three Australians now overweight, and 25 per cent of the population classified as clinically obese, The Obesity Myth is bound to strike a chord — and polarise some viewers, who might think those with weight issues have brought it on themselves.
“[This series really makes you think]: Is obesity a result of self-inflicted greed, as some people think, or is it absolutely a disease?” Cordell said.
“It’s a very important debate. A lot of things flow from that … and it has implications, in terms of health policy, and the general health of the population.”
Proietto believes the best chance we have of controlling the obesity epidemic, is to change our thinking — to start to view obesity as a disease, rather than a lifestyle choice.
He also sees the use of appetite suppressing drugs — not currently available on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme in Australia — as another important part of managing long-term weight.
“This is why we agreed to do the program; to put out there all of these recent research findings in understanding the regulation of body weight,” he said. “Because it’s not self-evident. The self-evident thing seems to be, ‘Oh you eat too much.’ But it doesn’t say why.”
So can people’s perceptions be changed?
“We hope so,” Proietto said.
The Obesity Myth, Monday, September 4 at 7.30pm on SBS