Obesity is a major problem in Australia. How major? An estimated 25 percent of Australian adults are obese, while two-thirds of the population are overweight. Besides the risk to their own health – the increased chance of diabetes, heart disease and cancer – there’s the cost to society of obesity, which is put at $9 billion dollars.
So what’s the reason for the obesity epidemic? Ask most people and they’d probably respond with some variation of: “Well, obese people eat too much.” And while food intake is of course part of the problem, the actual cause is more complicated than that. New SBS documentary series The Obesity Myth follows the work at Melbourne hospital Austin Health, where obesity is treated as the genetically derived disease the evidence suggests it is.
“This is a disease, not a lifestyle choice and it requires treatment like any other.”
This statement by Dr Ahmad Aly, the head of upper gastrointestinal surgery at Austin Health, sums up the approach of the hospital towards its obese and overweight patients. In The Obesity Myth, Aly explains the deeply rooted impulse in humans to find food and eat it that harks back to hunter-gatherer times.
That genetic predisposition to eat is much greater in some people, and given we now don’t have to spend all day searching for food – we don’t even have to leave our cars to get a meal – that need can be continually fulfilled. The evidence also suggests that environment has less influence on weight gain than genetics – meaning if you have the genes related to extreme obesity, you can’t actually help your desire to eat.
Not just science, it’s personal
Learning all that theory is great, but how does it apply to real people? The Obesity Myth follows a number of obese and overweight patients at Austin Health as they progress from initial consultations through the various forms of treatment – diet, medication and, as a last resort, surgery.
As the patients’ triumphs and setbacks play out, you’ll see their daily struggle and how it affects the people around them. There's frustration as some patients fail to lose the number of kilos they’d like to, especially when it becomes clear their lives depend on them doing better. At the same time, there’s a sense of relief for those who succeed in making real progress.
Go inside a surgery
For those patients who the meal plans and appetite suppressants don’t help, bariatric surgery is an option. And in episode one of The Obesity Myth, we see exactly what’s involved with a ringside seat as boxer Huss has part of his stomach removed. Even then, it’s not a done deal. Post-surgery, Huss still has to alter his eating habits so he doesn’t put weight back on, notwithstanding his reduced stomach. His experience is just one of the many stories that will change the way you think about obesity.
Want to know more?
If you're interested in diving deeper into the complex topic of obesity, SBS has plenty of programming to check out ahead of the premiere of The Obesity Myth. Over the next three Thursdays, you can tune in to Why Are We Getting So Fat; Eat, Fast & Live Longer and Sugar Crash.
Meanwhile, on SBS On Demand, you can watch Global Junk Food, about the prevalence of cheap, low quality food in the third world; Is Sugar the New Fat?, which gets to grips with the role sugar plays in weight gain; and Craig Anderson's attempt to break his fast-food habit in My Japanese Diet.
Watch The Obesity Myth on Mondays from 4 September at 7:30pm on SBS.