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Yale doctors in HBO documentary

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May
14

As deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Marlene Schwartz has been talking about the national obesity epidemic for years. Though it’s disheartening that so many people still haven’t gotten the message, she is encouraged that there has been an increased emphasis on educating the public on what has become a major health crisis.

Schwartz, Rudd Center director Kelly Brownell, and others affiliated with the nationally known center are among the many experts featured in the four-part HBO documentary series “The Weight of the Nation,” which will air Monday and Tuesday nights on the network.

The program represents a collaboration between HBO, the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. The series, which took about three years to make, is a sweeping examination of the factors that can contribute to obesity, the health effects of the condition and the importance of action.

“People need to understand how serious a problem this is,” Schwartz said. “And there are so many forces in our society making things difficult for people when it comes to eating and physical activity.”

HBO has previously aired in-depth looks at other health crises, including Alzheimer’s disease and addiction. With more than 68 percent of American adults either overweight or obese, weight was an obvious subject for this kind of documentary, said John Hoffman, vice president of HBO documentary films and executive producer of “The Weight of the Nation.”

“We turned to the public health community and asked what we should focus on next,” Hoffman said. “The answer was just unanimous.” With nearly two-thirds of the country overweight or obese — including a third of kids age 2 to 19 — and obesity-related health costs reaching nearly $150 billion annually, obesity was a topic ripe for examination. “The numbers are just staggering,” Hoffman said.

Schwartz said the Rudd Center staff got involved after being contacted by HBO. Though they were intrigued by the project, they had some concerns about how the subject would be handled. “One of the things we emphasized to them was that it was important (that the documentary) not further weight bias and discrimination,” she said.

After viewing the project, Schwartz said she’s pleased at the path it took. The series tackles a variety of important topics, including childhood obesity and the rise of obesity-related health problems like diabetes.

Hoffman said the one thing he was surprised to learn while working on the series is how just having an excess of fat around the middle can be a major health concern. The first episode of the series features a man who developed diabetes and, as a result, had to have one of his feet amputated. Hoffman pointed out that the man isn’t obese, but still had weight-related health issues.

“We can’t think of extra weight around the middle as benign anymore,” he said.

The show also spotlights some of the societal factors, such as the abundance of processed foods, which can contribute to weight problems.

In addition to the four-part series for adults, HBO has also produced “The Weight of the Nation for Kids.” The first part of that three-part series will debut Wednesday. There’s also a robust social media campaign, a book and other efforts all linked to the project.

Both Schwartz and Hoffman said they hope the effort helps to further action and discussion on weight issues. Schwartz said she specifically hopes this will help lead to policy changes that, among other things, make it tougher to market unhealthy foods to young children. “Parents need to feel supported in feeding their kids a healthy diet and not feel undermined by food marketing,” she said.

Hoffman agreed that, to reverse the deadly obesity trend, there has to be a major cultural shift. “No one set out to cause an obese population, but it happened,” he said.

The first two parts of the series air Monday, starting at 8 p.m. and the second two parts air Tuesday, starting at 8 p.m. Visit hbo.com/theweightofthenation to learn more about the project.

acuda@ctpost.com; 203-330-6290; twitter.com/AmandaCuda; http://blog.ctnews.com/whatthehealth/

Article source: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/article/Yale-doctors-in-HBO-documentary-3555699.php

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