Pharmaceutical company funds documentary about over-eating

fat kitty big.jpg

GlaxoSmithKline is financing a documentary about over-eating, in the hopes that it will boost sales of Alli—their over-the-counter drug that blocks your body from absorbing some of the fat you eat. (Fun game: Read the recent Science Question from a Toddler on poop and see if you can guess what the common side-effects are.)

Glaxo says they won't have control over the content of the film and won't even be pushing to make sure Alli gets mentioned. They simply want to educate Americans about the fact that they eat too much.

The partners say they hope to emulate "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore's celebrated 2006 documentary on climate change. It cost an estimated $1.5 million to produce and sold $50 million in tickets worldwide. Ms. Ferdinando summarized the film as "the 'Inconvenient Truth' of mindless eating," with the story taking a "behind-closed-doors, fly-on-the-wall" approach that highlights unhealthy relationships people have with food.

Artistically, the problem I see here is that successful documentaries—and really documentaries in general—are usually about challenging popular perception and either making a case for a viewpoint that's counter to "common-sense" or informing people about a situation that's mostly being ignored. The thesis "Fat People Eat Too Much" does not exactly fit into that mold.

New York Times: Glaxo, diet drug maker, to pay for film on eating

Image courtesy Flickr user yukariryu, via CC


  1. I wouldn’t go near this movie, if glaxo is funding it. Seventeen years ago, my “primary care physician” prescribed paxil for my depression and social anxiety. It was effective, more or less, for a while, but then I became a bundle of side-effects, with my old problems returning. Finally, six months ago, I quit the paxil; tapered off like everybody advises. I’ve spent the past six months going through serious withdrawal… first came dizziness, then my eyes rolling around in my head, then seizures and tongue biting upon falling asleep, intense tinnitus, and now, the worst of all, throat spasms (a feeling of a lump in the throat, fullness, and choking)…
    My original symptoms of depression and anxiety were NEVER like this; NEVER this bad.
    I saw my new “primary care physician” about it. His advice? Go back on paxil.
    Thanks, assholes.

  2. A successful documentary can also be one that approaches the subject in a new way. “Supersize Me”, for example, shocked a lot of us into looking twice at that burger, but it was a bit too sensationalist to be taken seriously. Maybe this documentary will appeal to an audience who prefers calmer sources of information?

    I would say that judging by how many obese Americans there are, the problem IS still being mostly ignored. If yet another documentary about fat people needs to be made in order to help us understand what exactly causes a body to gain so much unhealthy weight, then it needs to me made. Because it’s not the problem of some alien species of fat people, it’s everybody’s problem. This is relevant even if you’re skinny, because you’re still at risk, with the kind of food that is popular and available today, and the lazy routines most people accept as normal.

  3. “The partners say they hope to emulate “An Inconvenient Truth,”

    Hey, if Kleiner Perkins and Generation Investment Management (Al Gore’s corporate partners) can do it, why not Glaxo??

  4. As someone who has lost 70 pounds and kept it off effortlessly (after decades of trying), my opinion is that it’s not that we over-eat; in fact, we under-eat. We’re starved for nutrition. The real problem is simply that we eat the wrong food. I now eat more than ever before, yet I’m thin and healthy (finally!!). I simply stopped eating high-calorie / low-nutrient foods.

    1. @rawdiant you said it. I eat a ton of food, people can’t believe how much I eat, and I stay thin.

      It’s because I eat FOOD, not food-like-substances.

      I eat tons of fresh vegetables every meal. I drink fresh whole milk I buy from a farm every week, I eat meat also fresh from a farm (and I live in a suburb of New York City, so don’t say you can’t find fresh food where you live). I don’t, however, drink any soda, I don’t drink anything but water actually. I don’t eat ANYTHING processed, no high-fructose-corn-syrup at all. I hardly eat any carbohydrates. I never eat anything that comes in a wrapper, a convenient shape, or a fashionable color. (Unless you count Bananas as convenient and Blueberries as fashionably colored)

      Michael Pollan sums up good eating habits in one sound-bite: ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’

      1. I have to mention that you do eat carbohydrates, through all those fruits and vegetables. Fructose being the most likely source. I think you mean that you don’t eat complex carbohydrates like bread or cereals, but rather simple carbohydrates like sugars.

        1. @Apoxia, well I eat a lot of vegetables but I don’t drink fruit juice or eat that much sugary fruit. Ie: I eat more Apples than Oranges etc. But point taken. I avoid complex carbohydrates more than simple carbohydrates and I avoid processed complex carbohydrates most of all (white bread, bagels, muffins etc).

  5. Maybe, instead of trying to engineer food in such a way that we can keep overeating, or creating drugs that do the same, we should simply go back to decent biological products. Fat, natural fat that is, isn’t inherently bad, on the contrary. It’s when companies start messing with fat, turning it to something unnatural, that our bodies don’t know what to do with it anymore.

  6. It’s never a good sign when the creators of a documentary mention budget and box office returns when discussing what they’re trying to emulate about another movie.

    @rawdiant, what are you eating? Raw foods? (guess based on your user name.) I also eat more than a lot of people think is possible to stay my size, and stay thin. But a lot of it is genetics for me. Then again, I am mostly vegetarian and eat a ton of fruits and vegetables.

    1. Oh… haha … forgot my own username here. Yep, spot-on. That’s the only thing that ever worked for me.

  7. I’m guessing that the side effects are, to put it mildly, oily discharges. That is “oily poop that will stain your undies if you don’t make it to the toilet”.

    1. Yes, oily discharges are the side effect. This was mentioned on a documentary on BBC 4 last night, along with discussions of the various causes of obesity (mental health, lack of exercise, poor diet, overeating, factory farming, additives, etc). Highly recommended!

  8. Do bear in mind its big pharma funding the film here.. if they are going to put their dollars in they will have a particular motive and outcome in mind, no matter what they say. It will be cleverly planned and strategic and before you know it, you’ll have rushed down to your local pharmacy for your dose of fat-be-gone/Alli.

    Perhaps if the funding didn’t coincide with with a stagnant product line their motives wouldn’t be so blatantly questionable..

  9. Holy shit! You mean I’m fat? I hadn’t noticed all the advertising and media telling me I’m fat, since I was too busy hauling my 250lb, 5’4″ ass up to the podium to accept awards for competitive dance that I’d trained 40+ hours a week for over a decade to win.

    Jeezy creezy. Why do people keep assuming fat folks aren’t aware of what we eat? I’d say of all people, we’re the ones who know better (been on and off socially acceptable disordered eating plans– oh, I’m sorry, you know them better as ‘diets’) what we’re putting in our mouths, and you know what? It’s not always crap, it’s not always more than we need, and you know what else? There are no such thing as good or bad foods, because food doesn’t have morality. What you eat is not likely to send you to heaven or hell.

    Unless it’s baby-flavored donuts, in which case, you’re on your own.

  10. Well I saw it announced earlier this week, that in the USA, Obesity has now outstripped Smoking as the number one health concern or cause of death.

    The study attributes this to the fact that the percentage of people that smoke has declined slightly from about 25% or so to 18% or so due to national anti smoking campaigns, while during the same time period, obesity has roughly doubled from something like 18% to something like 36%.

    So the time might be ripe for a movie such as this, and indeed a couple of years ago, “SuperSize Me” showed that there is some interest there.

    The fact that an evil drug company is funding it is a bit scary. In all seriousness the government should be spending tons of money on this. The minuscule amount of money they would spend in prevention in the long term would likely decrease health care costs dramatically. Which from what I hear is a pretty big deal right now.

    1. the government doesn’t care about you enough to tell you the truth. it would hurt the economy’s bottom line to reduce the amount of fat people eat.

  11. Artistically, the problem I see here is that successful documentaries—and really documentaries in general—are usually about challenging popular perception and either making a case for a viewpoint that’s counter to “common-sense” or informing people about a situation that’s mostly being ignored. The thesis “Fat People Eat Too Much” does not exactly fit into that mold.

    Ah, but you’re missing a very important point. A good documentary can adopt any one of many viewpoints.

    It could, for example, examine obesity from the light that it is caused by a pervasive matrix of causes which include eating, what is being eaten, levels of activity, etc. From this perspective one could easily (and truly, IMO) argue that the problem is exacerbated by simplified cause-and effect beliefs. The evidence is overwhelming, for example, that eating highly-processed “low fat” foods actually hurts, not helps, when it comes to entering into a healthy relationship with food. “Taking a pill” is another example of brain-dead simplified “solutions” to health.

    Thus, a good documentary could easily serve GlaxoSmithKline up on a platter. In fact, a good documentary should.

    Of course, that’s not to say this is at all likely, but it would be a beautiful (artistically and aesthetically) irony if it did.

  12. i love the fact that there was a random mcdonald’s snack wrap ad beside the comment section of this post when i logged on. ;)

  13. Okay, a pill to make me crap out all my food so I stay thin. Awesome.

    Now how about a pill that makes my ass stop leaking and makes my excrements smell better?

  14. It isn’t all straight calories. For example, a few days ago I pigged out on the classic saute’d eggplant dish from Joy Of Cooking, which happily soaks up all the oil it can get (though I tried to limit that) — but which is also _satisfying_ enough that for the next day I had almost no hunger. I was actually _down_ in weight after that little splurge.

    The Weight Watchers approach does work. It’s OK to go overboard once in a while, as long as it’s _only_ once in a while and you track yourself to keep the average reasonable.

    Increasing veggies definitely helps.

    Though that cat photo reminds me that it’s time I started tracking more carefully again myself.

  15. SOMEBODY has to get the public to wake up! I’m skeptical, but if Glaxo moves the ball in the right direction, it’s a means to an end.

    I’m a reformed fat American now living in Europe. When we returned for a visit to the US last year, my 10-year-old turned to me and said “geez, Americans are SO fat!”

    I have lost 35lbs/15kg and kept it off for over a year now. I credit the European tendency to cut out the snacking, to eat real food (not something that came out of a cardboard box or through a window) and actually walking — I prefer to walk to the grocery, the post office, etc…and I can get to all those places in less than 15 minutes. I feel better, I look better, and I’m a darned sight healthier and stronger.

    Don’t get me wrong — I’m not skinny — but I’m healthy, feel good, and my clothes fit. And don’t buy that crap about French women don’t get fat — some of them do…but there’s a whole lot less of them than there are in the US and the UK. (men, too, for that matter)

    The book In Defense of Food really, really made me think…because it’s so darned simple:

    Eat food.
    Not too much.
    Mostly plants.

    and an email I received today: Eat food that’s GROWN on plants, not MADE in plants.

    I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t do macrobiotics, raw food, count carbs, or anything else — I thoroughly enjoy eating a sensible amount of really good food. (Yes, I eat bread, butter, and chocolate.)

    The US (and to a lesser extent the UK) are eating themselves to death…and it’s spreading around the world.

    Maybe Glaxo can wake somebody up.

  16. Alli—their over-the-counter drug that blocks your body from absorbing some of the fat you eat.

    Considering that your liver converts excess carbohydrates in your diet into fat, I fail to see the logic of this drug.

  17. ‘The thesis “Fat People Eat Too Much” does not exactly fit into that mold.’

    I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the thesis of the documentary will actually be “Fat people have too much fat in their diets”

    Not only would it be more likely to sell as a documentary, it actually is the case for a lot of people. There’s a rather large number of people who are (usually) moderately overweight due not to eating a lot, but to eating too much fatty crap.

    1. I think a better way to put it is: “Fat people have too much junk in their diets”, ‘junk’ being processed, low-nutrient stuff. It’s possible to change your eating habits.. it’s just not always -convenient- to change them.

      It’s really the whole ‘effort’ thing that stops people from staying thin. ‘Effort’ is hard, right?

  18. Your documentary definition is very particular to your good self.

    Documentaries can also support a prevailing point of view., heck, they can even advance it.

    The hint is in the name: they are supposed to document the reality around us, not necessarily to challenge it (but of course, challenging the status quo is a way of documenting the current state of affairs).

  19. Oh great, a movie about how awful being fat is from the very people who supply me with the drugs that help continue to make me fat. Such logic astounds me.

    How about a documentary about Health at Every Size (HAES)? How about a documentary about adipose tissue and why we need it and it’s historical social and economic impact? Cause that would actually be pretty interesting.

    1. I don’t think it’s an attack on fat people, just like anti-smoking ads aren’t usually “attacking” smokers, either. Usually they’re just trying to inform the public of the heath risks associated with that activity, so they may better consider their actions. With being overweight, there are undeniable heath risks. Just like it is unhealthy to be “too” anything, fat or skinny. While the healthy weight for everyone isn’t the same, you start reaching the higher (or lower) ends of the spectrum and it becomes increasingly unhealthy. It’s not discrimination – it’s just how our bodies function.

      1. I didn’t say it was an attack on fat people and I don’t think it is. I just think it’s ironic that the very same company that makes Alli makes one the medications that causes me (and lots of other people) to gain weight. It also makes me extremely angry.

        I feel that the news media, like it almost is, has overly sensationalized and pseudo-scienced obesity and weight loss into a dangerous news whirlpool of drug company funded studies, outdated medical standards, and clips of extremely obese people eating that provides little real medical information or solutions for people of any weight or size or fitness level.

        As a person with a Type 1 diabetic mother and a anorexic sister, I have experienced many different attitudes towards food and weight during my life (outside of my own attitudes towards my obesity). I’ve grown up with my mother considering her food intake/activity vs. her insulin levels and the very frightening infrequent low blood sugar crazies miraculously solved by a tall glass of OJ. I’m an expert on anorexic eating habits thanks to one of my sisters and during a visit to her in an inpatient ward once, personally witnessed a eleven year old cry and scream hysterically when told she was going to be served pasta. I’ve seen friends agonizing over their beautiful bodies; intelligent people obsessed with a perceived inadequacy that has nothing to do with who they are. I’ve pushed away my depression and misery momentarily with a huge piece of chocolate cake.

        So, personally, I find the idea of anyone profiting over such depths of human misery fit to only be absolutely abhorred.

  20. As far as obesity is concerned, what you eat basically doesn’t matter, just its caloric content. A pound of fat is 3,500 calories, no more, no less. (And a pound of water is zero calories, but dehydrating yourself is stupid.) That’s why a semi-recent study comparing a high protein/low carbohydrate, balanced, and low protein/high carbohydrate found that the specific diet didn’t make a difference for weight loss. What does matter is how well you adhere to it.

    Hunger tends to be why people think calories don’t matter. They’ll eat a low calorie meal, then be hungry and eat more the next meal. Or become so lethargic that they don’t use nearly as many calories. Or some people think calories don’t matter because they suck at counting, especially with snacks and portion size.

    Nutritionally, cutting out any macronutrient is bad. Eating fat isn’t, in fact, there are actually essential fatty acids. What’s bad about fatty foods is that fat has 9 calories per gram, compared to carbohydrates with 4, and proteins with a net of 4. So fatty foods are often high in calories, and fats and oils tend to be rather void of other nutrients, and thus it’s probably a good idea to limit them unless you need them (e.g. endurance athlete).

  21. I am fat, and I have spent the better part of the last 20 years trying not to be. With little success to show for it. Out of the dozen’s of things I have tried over the years, the very worst of them was the prescription version of Alli (Xenical). My doctor was very hopeful about this new drug when she put me on it and a little disappointed when I decided to drop it.

    What is it like? Well, it does make you stick to a healthy low fat diet, because if you don’t you’ll be dreadfully sick. For example, I went out for lunch with some co-workers, ordered something that should have been a good choice but apparently wasn’t, and spent the whole afternoon in the bathroom. (All spare you all from the details).

    The other, often glossed over feature of Alli is while in double blind studies it was shown to help people loose more weight then by diet alone, it wasn’t that much extra weight. Most of the weight loss still comes from people eating healthy food and getting more exercise.

    All that said if GlaxoSmithKline wants to take some of the money they’ve made off Alli and spend it on a documentary about weight problems I don’t see a problem with that. But I’m not really sure how they could expect more people to take Alli unless they control the editorial content.

  22. As Gary Taubes points out in ‘Good calories, bad calories’ there is no scientific evidence that fat makes you fat. Carbs make you fat. The carb industry wants to keep you hooked on poisons like high-fructose corn syrup and then sell you drugs to slow your death so you can buy more snacks. It’s a simple business plan really.

  23. Cutting the crap “food” additives out of your diet isn’t that hard (shop the perimeter of the grocery store and/or the farmer’s market). Sure, it *can* take a fair amount of time to cook, but it beats the health consequences of cutting nutritional corners.

    Eat to live, don’t live to eat. If you’re living to eat, it’s time for a new hobby.

  24. Actually, it’s the government that wants to keep us hooked on high-fructose corn syrup — or so I assume from the subsidies, which really do distort the price. (Canada is part of the old trading empire, and has cane sugar. We aren’t and have corn syrup.

    The one good thing about the ethanol-from-corn hype (as opposed to ethanol from non-food stocks) is that it has taken lots of corn sugar off the market, with the result that some businesses are quietly switching back to genuine sucrose… though many of them are not changing their product labels, which already allow either, because they aren’t sure how long this shift will last.

    American Coke is closer to Original Coke now than it has been in quite some time; I used to have to go to Canada to stock up.

    1. @technogeek if you are stocking up on Coke, the government isn’t keeping you hooked on high-fructose corn syrup, YOU are.

  25. The documentary Fathead by Tom Naughton is sort of like Good Calories, Bad Calories: The Movie. Very entertaining and informative though it has kind of a libertarian slant. Still, I’d recommend it to anyone.

  26. I’m a reasonable sized person (6’1″. about 175-180) and have been most of my life, but there was a period a few years back when I put on 40-50 pounds or so and got really big.

    And then it went away.

    How? My kids started school.

    You see, when my kids started school, my wife started packing a lunch for them, and for me too. For lunch I mostly have leftovers from diner the night before (real foods, just normal stuff) and some fruit. Before that I was eating junk almost every lunch.

    That one simple change (and the fact that we moved into town, so I started walking a little more) made the fat go away.

    No dieting. No counting anything. No overt exercise (besides things like walking down to the coffee shop for my morning whole-milk infused fru-fru coffee).

    I agree with almost all the posters here: if you want to be healthy, eat whatever you want, provided its good, real food (and not too much).

    And that would make a great documentary. Explode the whole eating mythos that we labor under. Diet this, diet that, obsession… It’s all for naught, and it’s doing many people great harm.

  27. As far as obesity is concerned, what you eat basically doesn’t matter, just its caloric content. A pound of fat is 3,500 calories, no more, no less.

    That’s an oversimplification. Fat, carbs and protein, for instance, have quite different relationships to insulin production, which is a vital step in depositing fat.

  28. Yeah, say to fat people “Hey, you know you’re fat, don’t you? That’s cos you’re a pig!”

    I challenge someone to go up to an amputee and say “Hey! You’ve only got one leg! You must have been drunk driving to get like that!”

    Same thing.

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