Obesity in America
By Rick Wilking
Almost 2 years ago I started work on a photo documentary simply titled “Obesity in America.” It’s a simple title but with complex subject matter.
Getting the access, the various permissions from individuals and institutions and working through the convoluted American HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) that protects patient privacy to extremes was quite a challenge. But trying to tell a story with this many layers and permutations was even tougher.
It was a hot topic back in 2010 when I started, with obesity-related stories moving frequently on the Reuters wire but with few images to go with them. I set out to change that and decided to work the project in multiple chapters.
Since I last blogged about the documentary, I have shot several more chapters and learned a lot more about how complicated this topic is.
After the early chapters in 2010 on “fat acceptance” and on an obese woman getting a gastric bypass, I’ve done work on:
– Local hospitals fighting youth obesity
– Morbidly obese people auditioning for The Biggest Loser TV show
– The Biggest Loser Boot Camp in Utah
– A clinical study on infants born from obese mothers
– How schools are working with very young and obese children to eat better and exercise
– A teenager having a controversial lap band procedure and her mother who had gastric bypass at nearly the same time
– And most recently, free Zumba classes for low-income people
What I have learned along the way is there is no easy fix. Simply telling people to eat less and exercise more is not the solution in and of itself. There can be complex genetics involved, psychiatric implications and much more to address.
Then there are the societal influences like the “super sizing” of fast food offerings. There are the “food deserts” in the inner city where supermarkets selling healthy food are completely absent. Convenience stores selling cheap hot dogs and chips are the sources for dinner for many. And there are traditions like bringing giant cakes to school for parties celebrating every kid’s birthday.
Possibly the most rewarding work has come in covering Jazmine Raygoza and her mother Veronica who both had bariatric surgery. I’ve been covering them consistently from the days before Jazmine’s surgery, through her procedure, and post-surgery life with gym workouts, learning exercises with other bariatric patients and just hanging out with friends watching her get thinner. Since she is in her last year of high school I’ve shot her at prom, her graduation. I will be shooting the final set of pictures at her one year mark on June 20, 2012. By then, between Jazmine and her mother, they will have lost nearly 200 pounds. That’s a lot of weight they won’t be carrying around anymore – hopefully forever.
As for me, I did well in the gym and lost 20 pounds myself. But don’t look to see me in a photo documentary any time soon!