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'FRONTLINE' CHEWS THE FAT

LOOK what happens when you make one little change in an old pickup line.

If I said you had a fat body would you hold it against me?

All of a sudden, it's hilarious because the thought of anyone wanting to hold a fat body close is, well, just not one we as a society can take seriously.

Fat, unlike extreme height (or lack of it), for example, is still considered a character flaw, when most experts will tell us that it is far more complex than that.

And so they do during an imported Frontline that is thoughtful but either too short by a half , so that very little time is left to explore the psyches and regimens of people who prove that one can be fat and very fit.

Indeed, much of the hour called Fat could be titled, in keeping with popular specials on gross-out subjects, When Fat Attacks!

A socio-biological cram course reminds us that modernization is one of the biggest predictors of obesity. More processed and/or junk food is available. And we don't have to work so hard to get it.

We're introduced to the Pima people of Arizona, a community that officially ranks as the fattest population in the fattest country on Earth, says Fat producer-director-writer Antony Thomas.

Five-hundred miles south, a Mexican branch of the Pima have little or no problem with obesity and diabetes and other ills that affect their North American brethren, according to Thomas.

The Mexican Pima have no electricity or piped water, either, so everything they do or eat is hard-earned with manual labor.

So poverty can be good for your health and self-image? We can have cultural and genetic predispositions to weight? But people still tend to think fat people are lazy, not to mention unattractive?

Yes and no, says the experts Thomas interviewed in this country and the Mother Country, who knock the mass media emphasis on coat-hanger bodies and the dominance of industrialized foods in the modern diet.

Thomas introduces us to Dave Alexander, who stands 5-foot-8, weighs 250 pounds and has completed 264 triathlons and a professor who also is clinically obese but runs 35 miles a week.

The professor has studied some 25,000 people since 1970 and says that fat men who were fit had lower mortality rates than men who were unfit but of so-called normal weight.

But Thomas has not confronted the people who set ideal-weight standards that reinforce the image that thin is inevitably what counts most.

He seems uninterested in what leads one fat person to wallow in despair while another fat person swims five miles, runs 30 and cycles 200 in a typical week.

He was too busy stuffing his report with processed information to focus on the information that gives us something more substantial to chew on.