U.S. citizens stubbornly remain obese despite decades of efforts by movie stars, fitness gurus, educators and even religious leaders to get Americans into shape. Instead of becoming healthier, obesity has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The rate has tripled for children, especially among low-income youths who have few options about the quality of food they eat and the safety of the open spaces they can play in.
Now HBO is taking a shot at the obesity problem with a multipart series and public health campaign called “The Weight of the Nation.”
A sneak preview will be shown Wednesday at the Oakland Museum of California.
The invitation-only event begins at 5:30 p.m. with “A Celebration of Local Food Heroes” accompanied by healthful cooking tips and free samples for attendees. “Mosswood Cookbook” author Mollie Katzen - one of the first to popularize vegetarian meals - will demonstrate techniques for meat-free menus.
At 7 p.m., the museum will show the fourth installment of the “Weight of the Nation” series, “Challenges.”
Overweight and obese individuals are at increased risk for many diseases and health chronic conditions, including the following:
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
Type 2 diabetes
Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
Some cancers (pancreas, kidney, prostate, endometrial, breast, and colon)
A panel of experts, including Katzen, will convene at 8 p.m. to discuss tips for healthy living and answer questions.
Katzen’s fellow panelists include Anthony Iton, former director of the Alameda County Public Health Department. He now serves as an executive for the California Endowment’s Healthy Communities program.
There also will be activities at a mock farmers market.
Fact: Obesity rates are soaring in the U.S.
• Between 1980 and 2000, obesity rates doubled among adults. About 60 million adults, or 30% of the adult population, are now obese.
• Similarly since 1980, overweight rates have doubled among children and tripled among adolescents – increasing the number of years they are exposed to the health risks of obesity.
Fact: Obesity is already having an adverse impact on young people
• Type 2 diabetes – once believed to affect only adults – is now being diagnosed among young people.
• In some communities almost half of the pediatric diabetes cases are type 2, when in the past the total was close to zero. Although childhood-onset Type 2 diabetes is still a rare condition, overweight children with this disease are at risk of suffering the serious complications of diabetes as adults, such as kidney disease, blindness, and amputations.
• Sixty-one percent of overweight 5- to10-year-olds already have at least one risk factor for heart disease, and 26% have two or more risk factors.
HBO billed the “Weight of the Nation” series as a “comprehensive look at the urgent obesity epidemic in America.”
“We’re not going to pretend that one series on TV is going to (solve) the problem,” the producer and HBO Documentary Films Vice President John Hoffman said.
But, he added, HBO is trying to leverage its reach to “sound the alarm” about a crisis that has dire consequences for the country if left unresolved.
“The future health of the United States is approaching something we cannot fathom,” Hoffman said.
About $1 billion in medical costs were associated with obesity and $370 million with lost productivity just in Alameda County, whose obesity rate among adults reached nearly 20 percent in 2007. In Contra Costa, the rate was 22 percent, and in Santa Clara County it was 19 percent. Rates among youths, particularly low-income children of African-American and Latino descent, are skyrocketing.
The full HBO series will begin May 14. The campaign includes four documentaries, 14 short films, a book, visits to other cities and social media promotion.
By Angela Woodall