Fifty years ago obesity barely existed. Today, almost two out of three Australian adults are either clinically obese or overweight*. So why, in the midst of a global obesity epidemic, are obese people judged, criticized and shunned, rather than being supported to improve their health?
The Obesity Myth is a new three-part documentary series, produced for SBS by the award-winning CJZ (Go Back to Where You Came From,Gruen), which challenges the commonly held view that obesity is the result of lifestyle choice.
The series follows the staff and patients at Melbourne public hospital Austin Health, where doctors are using new research to treat obesity as a genetic illness.
Through stories of hope, determination and adversity it reveals the broader challenges facing Australian society and medical systems as they try to deal with the global obesity epidemic.
International obesity expert Professor Joe Proietto is the head of Austin Health’s Weight Control Clinic. He believes people are obese because of a certain genetic pre-disposition which means they experience significantly more hunger and need to eat more food to feel full than a thin person. Professor Proietto’s approach to weight loss is sought after – patients often wait up to two years for an appointment, and treatment begins with an extremely low carb diet, often followed by appetite suppressing medication.
For patients who struggle on Professor Proietto’s diet, the last resort is bariatric surgery, where most of the patient’s stomach is permanently removed, or a lap band or balloon is inserted into the stomach. Headed by Ahmad Aly, Austin Health’s bariatric clinic performs 80 operations each year under the public health system.
The Obesity Myth follows several Weight Control Clinic patients including Karen, a 40-year-old wheelchair-bound woman who tips the scales at 246kg and has been a patient at the clinic for over 12 months but is showing little progress; 27-year-old vlogger and musician, Flick, who spent all of her schooling years as the biggest kid in class; Tracey, a vivacious 48-year-old mum-of-two who has lost over 73kg in 12 months and is taking a chance and coming off her appetite suppressant medication after reaching her goal weight; and greyhound-loving Wayne who was diagnosed with weight-related diabetes as a teen and is now facing foot amputation aged 40.
Bariatric Surgery patients featured in the series include former New Zealand national gridiron player Robert who weighs more than 200kg and faces premature death if he can’t lose weight; Huss, a Lebanese Australian boxer who is struggling to deal with the challenge of eating significantly less food post-surgery; and Lebanese-born author and academic Marie who’s weight gain was a symptom of hormone-balancing medication and has put unbearable pressure on her prosthetic legs.
SBS Director of Television and Online Content, Marshall Heald said:
“With almost two-thirds of Australian adults tipping the scales as overweight or obese, the issue of diet and health affects millions across different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. The Obesity Myth is an important program that will help break down barriers to social cohesion by sharing the deeply personal stories of those who have struggled with obesity, and challenging commonly held views that obesity is the result of lifestyle choice.”
Alongside The Obesity Myth, SBS will offer a range of content exploring the wider issues of diet and health throughout September, including in-depth articles online via sbs.com.au/obesity, curated programming on SBS On Demand, an episode of Insight investigating eating disorders, a Dateline documentary looking at the most obese country in the world and a number of stories across SBS World News platforms.
The three-part documentary series The Obesity Myth is produced by CJZ for SBS and airs Mondays at 7.30pm from September 4 on SBS. Join the conversation using #TheObesityMyth