HBO’s Weight of the Nation Documentary Hopes to Confront Public with Realities of the Obesity Epidemic
By Adam Brown
On May 14, HBO premiered its four-part documentary series on obesity, The Weight of the Nation. Each part – entitled “Consequences,” “Choices,” “Children in Crisis,” and “Challenges” – addressed head-on a different aspect of the obesity epidemic, featuring a powerful mix of personal stories, compelling statistics, and opinions from an array of leading experts. In a rare and extremely commendable move, HBO has also posted all four hour-long films in their entirety online at http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/films (go to the “Watch” tab to view all four films), plus videos explaining the overall project and a dozen bonus short films on such topics as “Poverty and Obesity,” “The Biology of Weight Loss,” and “Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.” We highly recommend watching this – we have seen it and were blown away by it. The site also has an impressive assortment of learning materials and a whole section on advocacy ideas, a clear (and refreshing) demonstration to us that the project has loftier goals than just making an of-the-moment movie. The documentary has an impressive list of co-presenters: the Institute of Medicine, NIH, CDC, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente. Executive producers Sheila Nevins and John Hoffman have won an Emmy Award for their previous public health documentary The Alzheimer’s Project, and we expect this will be up for many awards as well.
We were moved, educated, angered, and inspired after seeing the film’s fourth segment in a pre-screening at the CDC’s recent Weight of the Nation Conference. We think HBO has done a most impressive job with this project, which executive producer John Hoffman hopes will be the largest public health campaign on obesity that America has ever seen. We hope so too. Notably, HBO is also sending out 40,000 DVD Screening Kits (complete with discussion guides) to community organizations around the US. Given this commitment and the high regard for the film’s co-presenters, we believe The Weight of the Nation may well bring more widespread public attention to obesity – one comparison has been the way in which Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring called environmentalists to action in the 1960s (she is credited with launching the environmental movement, and her work is said to have enabled a major pesticide ban in the early 1970s). –AW/AB/KC