The Weight of the Nation

Last night I attended a special screening of HBO’s The Weight of the Nation.  The event, co-hosted by the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC), the Chicago Department of Public Health and Comcast demonstrated one of the key points in our Advancing Cancer Prevetnion paper – tackling these large problems is going to require us to come together across traditional disciplinary boundaries.  That doesn’t mean a geneticist and clinical psychologist collaborating.  It means media and science and policy and advocacy all in the same room saying, “ENOUGH.”

After airing part one of the documentary, the event had a panel featuring Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, chair of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern (where I had the privilege of completing my post doctoral fellowship, Adam Becker, the Executive Director of CLOCC and Dr. Bechara Choucair from the Chicago Department of Public Health.
The film was outstandingly done.  Because this is what I do for a living, there was very little I didn’t already know content wise in the documentary, but I still found it incredibly compelling.  The HBO filmmakers did a great job of mixing scientific facts, scientist-delivered content, testimonials from individuals and powerful visuals.  The list of scientists they engaged is outstanding.  Besides Dr. Lloyd-Jones, I found the segments with Thomas Frieden (Director of the CDC) and David Nathan (Director of the Diabetes Center at MGH) particularly compelling.  It was also a real treat, as a scientist, to hear Dr. Gerald Berenson talk about his amazing work with the Bogalusa Heart Study.  The Bogalusa Heart Study is the one that first showed us that the foundations of chronic disease start early – in this case, overweight and obese children show signs of heart disease as children!  I also think a huge thank you should go out to the individuals who went on camera and talked about their weight and health struggles.  I am excited to see the remaining segments in the documentary.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the panel and audience discussion.  A couple things stood out –
– everyone recognizes that these aren’t just health problems, they intersect with social and economic issues, particularly for our communities at greatest risk.
– there are a lot of people with incredible passion to do something about this in communities around the country, especially Chicago
– taking actions in other spaces has an impact on health.  The two that were discussed last night I think are worth mentioning.  (1) The biggest piece of legislation that will get voted on in the next year is the Farm Bill.  It has huge consequences on health because it provides enormous subsidies for corn and soybeans.  Kudos to Dr. Lloyd-Jones for urging the audience to talk to our legislators about the Farm Bill. (2) Crime is a major impediment to healthy living in our poor communities – it doesn’t just limit the ability to be active for our kids, but limits job opportunities (meaning longer commutes for parents) and the businesses that will come into those communities (making it harder to get healthy food options).
Here are my favorite quotes from the panel:
“Weight MAINTENANCE is the key to this problem” (Dr. Lloyd-Jones)
“Change is possible and powerful” (Dr. Christoffel from CLOCC)