How Funny is Obesity, Anyway?

The very popular TV comedy Parks and Recreation is located in Pawnee, a town of many public relations slogans. Among them is “Pawnee: First in Friendship, Fourth in Obesity,” which eventually is superseded by a motto with a bit more (or maybe less?) civic pride: “Pawnee: First in Friendship, Ninth in Obesity.”

In one episode, the plans for a town festival include the construction of a plus-size roller coaster customized for “obese thrill seekers,” with a sign at the gate commanding, “You must be this wide to ride.” Central to much of the action is the main industry on which everyone’s livelihood directly or indirectly depends, the Sweetums factory. The sitcom, wrote critic Willa Paskin,

[…] has used sugar to make cynical lessons about dysfunctional government go down very easy… Sweetums, after all, has always been a corrupt, unthinking corporate citizen responsible for Pawnee’s obesity epidemic: It’s so sweet, it gets away with murder.

In another episode, a tax on soda is proposed, leading to some discussion of job losses and so on. A short scene was capsulized for by Jessica Goldstein:

The sizes of available sodas to Pawnee consumers escalate from the “small” 64-ounce soda of Bloomberg infamy to the 128-ounce, which, Leslie points out, “most people call a gallon.” Then comes the 512-ounce option, deemed “child-sized” because it is roughly the size of a (liquefied) 2-year-old child.

In addition to basic high-fructose corn syrup, the Sweetums factory, without which Pawnee would be a ghost town, creates such products as — and this is not an exhaustive list — Lil’ Nooses, Teef Killers, Fingyums, Kandy Nailz, Gusherz, and Frooties!, the fizzy corn syrup soda known as Pawnee’s official beverage. Other offerings included a snack made of corn syrup and corn; dog-biscuit-shaped treats for humans; HFCS-flavored salt; and roasted fish dipped in chocolate.

But that’s not all. How about the beef jerky and licorice snack mix, and the deluxe version composed of those two ingredients plus nuts, gummy bears, and pretzels? The manufacturing behemoth even offered a non-edible product — candy-scented 11″ industrial construction screws.

Season 2 features Pawnee as the site of an anti-obesity telethon (sponsored, of course, by Sweetums) in what has been called one of the funniest episodes of a very funny show. In 2014, to boost her Let’s Move! campaign, Michelle Obama guest-starred in the season finale.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Heart of Pawnee,”, 02/25/15
Source: “Parks and Recreation Recap: Interns and Soda,”, 09/28/12
Source: “Sweetums (company),”, undated
Image by Pat Hartman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources