Killer at Large: Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat, a new film addressing epidemic obesity in the United States, opens with a stirring speech by former surgeon general Dr. Richard Carmona who outlines in no uncertain terms that obesity is the single biggest terror currently facing the American public. He states, “Obesity is the terror within. Unless we do something about it, the magnitude of the dilemma will dwarf 9-11 or any other terrorist attempt.” And so begins this film – remarkable for its cutting, no-holds-barred approach to obesity.
While its subject matter calls to mind such films as Supersize Me, Killer at Large is remarkably different from its predecessors in that there’s little joviality to offset a bleak message: we’re getting fatter and it’s killing us – worse yet, it’s killing our children. The film’s approach to epidemic obesity and dismal healthcare is refreshing in that it doesn’t attempt to lessen the blow of its message with quaint tongue-in-cheek humor. No. This film is real, and it’s raw.
Complementing the opinions of food activists, researchers and nutritionists with real life stories from the American public, Killer at Large approaches epidemic obesity with both science and personal experience and that is how it succeeds in delivering a vital message. We watch as a young girl, Brooke Bates, undergoes liposuction at the age of 12 and then undergoes lap-band surgery shortly thereafter. We see slideshows of oozing, open wounds caused by diabetes. In essence, the true effects of obesity and a national healthcare crisis are not hidden by the filmmakers; nor should they be.
While Killer at Large does address standard, and accepted causes of America’s obesity crisis like an increasingly sedentary lifestyle coupled with poor eating habits, it also brings to light many other more subtle, but, perhaps, more powerful causes. Interestingly, Killer at Large addresses an overlooked, but important, cause of climbing obesity rates: stress and fear. In a nation that is kept perpetually scared by its government and media, cortisol levels rise and with them so does our weight.
The film also addresses the incestual relationship between government health recommendations and the food industry. In one segment that would be laughable were it not also true, the film covers the loveable children’s character Shrek and how he was chosen as a government spokesperson for a program that encouraged children to “get out and play for an hour a day.” An hour a day? Really now. As if that concept isn’t ludicrous enough, food manufacturers (who also played a role in the development of the hour a day program) slapped Shrek’s image on sugary snack foods like twinkies with green goo filling during the campaign. No wonder kids are baffled.
School lunch programs and children’s health are discussed at length. For instance, experts interviewed during the film estimate that 44-45% percent of school-aged children will be insulin-dependent diabetics within 10 years at current rates or that we, as a nation, are 5 billion pounds overweight. A delightfully militant lunch lady and food activist describes how current school lunch standards are based on guidelines that are 3 decades old. These same standards count french fries and ketchup as “fruits and vegetables.” This is the first generation of American children whose life expectancy is lower than that of their parents. That is a tragedy.
The film, for all its hard, raw looks at epidemic obesity and its myriad causes, ends on a note of hope – hope through action and activism. It is an informative film and an important one.