TV Reviews: Horizon and Wildlife On One

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We have long enjoyed the privilege of sneering at America while copying her ways. Now we have found another habit to copy: her over-eating. One in seven people in this country, according to Horizon: Fat Cats, Thin Mice (BBC2) is clinically obese. I'm not sure where these people are to be found. Presumably, like 23-stone Heather Osborne, featured wallowing in self-pity about the attitudes of the six-in-seven, they hide at home with the curtains drawn. They certainly don't walk the streets enough to have lost their status as curiosities.

Horizon's mostly rather predictable rehash of the subject of dieting - being fat isn't just a fashion issue, it's actively bad for you and might, shock, even kill you - played to the baser urges of the punters with occasional freak-show footage. Most of this was provided by an American pressure group, The National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance, which aims to break down the country's prejudices about the obese. Having, not so long ago, seen an entire Oprah Winfrey Show devoted to the whines from her audience about how she'd damaged their own self-esteem by losing weight, I would believe anything about Americans. Members of the NAAFA held a fashion show, applauding a woman whose stomach hung down to her knees like the contents of a laundry basket as she modelled a swimsuit; held exercise classes consisting of raising their arms, and swapped phrases like "I believe that for each one of you to be here is a political act". All very diverting.

There is, of course, a serious message behind all this, and we were shown it in a pair of small glass phials. One contained blood serum from a healthy person, one from an obese one. The first was clear, the second so saturated with milky fats that it looked like a bottle of Copydex. The one-in-seven are walking around with this glop coating their arteries, and their numbers, despite the fact that, on average, we are each consuming 700 calories less every day than we were 20 years ago, are on the increase. Lack of exercise is, of course, the culprit: drive the kids to school now, and they'll be dropping dead of heart attacks, going blind through diabetes and wearing away the cartilage in their knees in 30 years' time.

The diet industry in the US alone is worth $1bn, and, self-control being something that seems beyond most westerners these days, most people still long for magical solutions. Under scrutiny was Proctor and Gamble's "fat- free fat", Olestra. Would you stuff yourself with something that carried the legend "may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and nutrients"? Americans, it seems, would endure any number of stomach cramps rather than give up their brownie orgies. Latest miracle is the isolation, two years ago, of the fatness gene in mice and the hormone it suppresses, leptin. The race is on to produce the stuff in pill form. Humans aren't mice, and fat people tend to have high levels of the hormone as it is, but shares in the company that bought the rights jumped by $1bn almost overnight. Now, that's a miracle.

Equally miraculous is the human capacity to swallow some of the linguistic sludge scraped from the bottom of the wildlife programming voiceover barrel. Watching Wildlife on One: The Eagle Empire (BBC1) last night, I suddenly realised that the secret of David Attenborough's success lies not in his amazing breadth of knowledge or even in his gravitas; it's his simple ability to spout phrases like "it could at last be time for the eagles to come in from the cold" without cracking up. Adhering to its usual standards of cinematographic brilliance, Wildlife on One's coverage of the life cycle of the sea eagle, a bird whose recovery from the edge of extinction has been so successful that the Norwegians have started exporting them to Scotland, was, predictably, a visual treat. Aurally, it was almost painful. The person who invents a device which automatically filters out sub-Celtic aah-ing background music and inanities like "cheeky provocation" when applied to hooded crows, will become rich beyond a diet doctor's dreams.