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“40-50 percent of my students have not developed the motor skills of…running.”
There must be something wrong when Grade Three students don’t yet know how to run. If you have to teach them how to run, as well as the whole reading writing and math thing, then there is a problem. Not just one of physical fitness and the possibility thereof in the future, but an overall mentality where video games and television have taken the place of athletic pursuits and books. But this is only a very small part of the problem leading to the obesity epidemic in America (and, to a lesser extent but still serious, Canada). You see, if kids are being raised by television, that means they are exposed to ridiculous amounts of advertising for unhealthy foods.
That advertising makes them want the crappy food, then they go to school where there is crappy food in vending machines strewn about the halls, and the only other option is the school lunch, which due to government regulations is necessarily unhealthy and contains far too many calories for a reasonable meal for children. And then there are other problems. These are the subjects tackled by Steven Greenstreet in his documentary Killer At Large, out now. This movie is very comprehensive, tackling all sorts of subjects related to obesity and unhealthiness in North America.
Of course, as with many similar documentaries, it opens with some SCARY pictures. Amputated toes, gross-out pictures of What Could Happen To You If You Get Fat, a truly disgusting video of liposuction being done on a little girl, and so forth. From there, it lets us breathe a little, as it uses clips of Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwarzennegger, Ralph Nader, Chevy Chase, Bill Maher, Wolf Blitzer, Bill O’Reilly, Stephen Colbert and others. (Sidebar – Bill Maher, on his HBO show Real Time, had Michael Pollan on to talk about food in America – Pollan figures prominently in Killer At Large.)
The documentary is a little too ambitious at times. It takes on such a huge variety of subjects that some of them can be quickly forgotten. It takes on corn (there is corn in everything), the link between food and oil, stress factors that tell the brain to eat and the body to store fat, kids contracting diseases that we all thought were eradicated (Rickets?) from eating nothing but fast food, the price of food in supermarkets where the worse something is for you the cheaper it is, and the bonkers protesting of Sesame Street by lunatic parents who were furious that Cookie Monster started to eat his vegetables.
When the movie is most effective is when it takes a look at things from the top. Not just the Cookie Monster protests, but the protests of parents who passed junk food through school doors to their kids when Arnold Schwarzennegger banned vending machines in California schools. The Bush administration “tackling the problem” by coming up with a campaign to promote excercise - with the input of…the food companies. And with the help of Dreamworks and Shrek. Shrek, who is of course featured on the packages of everything from Twinkies to Sugary Sugar-O Cereal With Sugar.
The most compelling figure in the movie is Dr. Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general of the United States, who says that while working under the Bush administration, he had his speeches vetted, his words edited, and some sections of his writings cut out entirely. All to help the major food companies keep peddling their poison to pre-teens. It’s some scary stuff, but fortunately the movie ends with a few good municipal programs and a few good school programs that are fighting the uphill battle. The DVD is out now, and comes with an “abridged educational version” so that it can be shown in schools. I hope it is.