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TV Review: Fat Family Tree

28 May 2013
Appeared in BioNews 706

Fat Family Tree

Channel 4, Thursday 23 May 2013

Presented by Dr Dawn Harper

'Fat Family Tree', Channel 4, Thursday 23 May 2013

'Based on the latest science, our gene-busting diet promises failsafe diet tips that could help all of us lose weight'. Dr Dawn Harper, of Embarrassing Bodies fame, smiles reassuringly into the camera after making the previous, rather bold, statement. While every fad diet makes these promises, the few that actually are 'failsafe' usually involve regimens that no normal human being can stick to for a prolonged period of time. So when a well-known GP makes a statement like this on TV, they should have some serious science backing it up.

Luckily for Dr Dawn, she has help from an excellent team. We see one of them sciencing away in his lab, pipetting coloured liquids while wearing an unrealistically spotless lab coat. The scientist, we are told, is analysing the McConnon family's genes. The McConnons have been struggling with their weight their entire life and have tried every diet, to no avail. This might be, the scientist explains, because the family's genes are working against them; they could have genes that make it harder for them to lose weight.

It turns out the family have it all: genes that make them like fatty foods more; genes that make them hungry faster; and genes that make them store their fat in all the wrong places. To make matters even worse, mother Tina turns out to have diabetes, the disease she lost her brother to. This seems to be the remit of the programme: scare them straight. The family are enrolled in experiments, showing them how exercise can reduce the amount of fat they absorb from food, or how unrefined carbs keep hunger at bay.

The finale - have the McConnons managed to 'beat their genes', as Dr Dawn likes to put it? They certainly look good when they come back after four months of gene-busting. Though that might also be the new outfits, make-up and smiles rather than anxious looks as this time they know they'll be told good news. And good news it is: weight loss all around! Fantastic for the McConnons, but what does it mean for the rest of us?

Three people losing weight in the short-term hardly qualifies as groundbreaking in the world of dieting. Despite it being 'based on the latest science', Channel 4's unique gene-busting diet will require some more evidence for it to be rolled out nationwide. For one, it would be nice to see what the elusive diet entails, as it is surprisingly missing from the entire programme. Sure, we get some tips and exercise is mentioned, but we don't even get a glimpse of what the McConnons were eating during their four-month dieting stint.

And perhaps more importantly, how viable is this tactic in the real world? Are the gene tests provided to the family available on the NHS? Should GPs offer designated appointment slots to scare fat families silly? In the UK, just over a quarter of adults are considered obese, and that number has been rising for years. As obesity is a big problem, solutions are needed, not more fad diets.

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