Photo Credit: TLC
For years now, everyone from medical and health experts to legislators and educators has decried the soaring obesity rate in America. And for years now, it just keeps getting higher.
For adults, obesity went up in 23 states in the past year, according to F as in Fat: How Obesity Policies Are Failing in America 2009, a report released in July. In 30 states, 30 percent or more of the kids are either obese or overweight.
Tonight, TLC puts four faces on the statistics. It's launching One Big Happy Family (8 p.m. ET), a six-episode documentary series about the Coles -- a morbidly obese couple and their two, morbidly obese teenagers. The dad and kids are each about 340 pounds; the mom is nearly 400. The family lives in North Carolina (which ranks 12th highest in the nation's obesity rates).
"My childhood, I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted," says the teenaged son, in the first episode. "I was less than two and eatin' fried chicken. I didn't even have teeth in!" He pauses and smiles at the absurdity of it, but the overall message is devastating.
And it's a reminder that obesity is a complicated issue. Some people truly struggle to lose weight, to no avail. Others just make excuses for gluttony, and aren't inclined to curb their behavior. Still, it's no secret that the chronic conditions associated with obesity contribute to the country's current healthcare crisis. A lot of healthy Americans can hardly repress their resentment towards the morbidly obese.
But when the Cole children explain why they overeat, there's no room for judgment. It's just sad. "Even when I was a kid, you know, like when you're crying, maybe your parents will give you ice cream or something sweet that they think will make you happy," says the daughter. As she talks, the camera captures her filling her giant size Slurpee cup to the brim. "Maybe it did make me happy at that moment, but it's just a vicious cycle."
"Just stop!" you want to tell her. But this family, like so many others, has built a lifestyle around eating badly. Their trip to a water park is ostensibly about having fun and getting exercise, but it also involves deep-fried funnel cakes covered in powdered sugar. When you equate bad food with happiness, forfeiting that food must seem like an unbearable sacrifice.
Throughout the series, the Coles are trying to lose weight, especially when they learn that their health has been compromised. But the show is also a documentary-style glimpse into the lives of people who don't fit the typical American mold (no pun intended). Some people will say that the show exploits them, and maybe it does. But if it's true that we're less likely to discriminate against people we've come to like, then this endearing family might give viewers pause before making the next fat joke. From that perspective, the Coles are serving a noble purpose.
Do you think a family should get their own TLC show for being morbidly obese? Chime in below!