The newly opened Portland Science Center recently invited me to tour its “Body Worlds” exhibit, a striking collection of preserved human cadavers and organs designed to illustrate, in the most graphic of detail, the consequences of unhealthy living. The displays related to obesity seemed particularly worth checking out as we head into the Thanksgiving and holiday season, when some of us *might* tend to overeat and skip a workout, or two, or three…
The exhibit leaves nothing to the imagination, featuring the cadaver of a real 330-pound person dissected lengthwise. A thick layer of fat cushions both outside and in, crowding the internal organs. Like the other cadavers on display, the obese body was preserved through “plastination,” a process that replaces body fluids with plastic and cures the specimens into a rigid model.
By comparison, next to it lies a slice of a person of normal weight, with a markedly narrower frame and vibrantly red abdominal cavity where its obese counterpart is awash in unctuous white.
The health effects of excess weight are many, from heart disease to diabetes. But seeing the toll it takes on the body in such unsparing, graphic detail hammers home the dangers more than any lecture from a doctor.
Groups of middle and high school students filed through the exhibit while we were there, and I’ve never seen so many kids so quiet. “Whoa, I wonder what I look like on the inside…” one girl muttered under her breath as she viewed the obesity display.
The exhibit also illustrates the physical benefits of healthy choices. A display of a gymnast, arched backwards on a balance beam, is all lean muscle and flexibility.
“You do not have to be a competitive athlete to stay fit. Those who train regularly and, most importantly, correctly and in moderation, promote their health, body awareness, and self-confidence,” reads a placard titled “Tune Your Body.”
The rest of the show includes bodies arranged in various poses — one’s kicking a soccer ball — and dissected to display the body’s inner workings, such as nerves and arteries.
German anatomist Gunther von Hagens, inventor of the plastination process, created the exhibit to educate the public about the intricacies of the human body — and to warn viewers of the perils of failing to care for it.
For information on the Body Worlds exhibit, which runs through the end of the year, visit Portlandsciencecenter.com.