When The Weight of the Nation premiered in May 2012, HBO and its partners did everything in their power (trust me, no expense was spared) to sound the loudest possible alarm that obesity is the single most important driver of chronic disease and disability in this country, and that it could be the reason why children born in the US today might have shorter lives than their parents.
On May 7, 2013, HBO will once again call attention to the obesity crisis when it premieres the three-part series, The Weight of the Nation for Kids.
Why should all families, all schools, all community leaders, all employers and all policymakers watch this series? Because it so effectively undermines our fatalism about the seemingly intractable obesity crisis.
Don't get me wrong. The obesity crisis is big, and it's frightening, and it's something we must all pay attention to. But there's good news here. Obesity is something we can address. If we, as a country, engineered our way into this obesity mess, we must also be able to engineer our way out of it.
Kids lead the way
The Weight of the Nation for Kids makes this point by introducing viewers to a few very smart, very inspired and very tenacious people who have the will and who find a way.
What's crucial to know is that none of these smarties are adults. All three films, Kebreeya's Salad Days, The Great Cafeteria Takeover and Quiz Ed! feature youth from rural North Carolina, New Orleans and Madison, Wisconsin. The children in these films understand that when it comes obesity, the whole system is to blame. They also understand that the only way we're going to solve obesity is if we change that system.
These kids show us all what we have to do. They aren't waiting for politicians, administrators, parents, or food companies to make changes for them. They speak truth to power, and power sits up to listen.
• Greasy pizza, hamburgers and fries -- the only daily choices they have -- does not a healthy teenager make. All Kebreeya Lewis from Goldsboro, North Carolina, wants for herself and her friends is a salad bar in her high school cafeteria. Anyone who doesn't believe in the power of one voice needs to watch Kebreeya's Salad Days to see how Kebreeya takes her fight to city hall and wins.
• In The Great Cafeteria Takeover, we meet the Rethinkers (an after-school group of teens from the Recovery School District of New Orleans) who want healthy, appealing food for breakfast and lunch. To the dismay of many, they are willing to ask the big corporations who have the contract to feed the school children of New Orleans a simple question: why wouldn't you want to nurture our growing bodies and minds? To the delight of the press and their fellow students this group of teens take their questions all the way up the corporate and administrative ladders to get what they feel every child in New Orleans deserves - healthy, tasty (and local) food.
• In Quiz Ed! the children of Madison, Wisconsin, show us that old fashioned play -- whether touch football, skateboarding, ski jumping or just jumping in and out of the town pool -- is not dead. Video games and texting have not won in that town. Quiz Ed! proves that kids aren't lazy, they WANT to move, they KNOW moving makes them feel better and they ALL deserve safe places to play. Every kid and every adult who cares about kids needs to listen and learn from Quiz Ed!
Turning the tide on obesity
The weight of the nation is still too high. It's still costing us far too much to manage. As a nation, we continue to face profound questions: Do our leaders, our communities, our families -- do we, as individuals -- have the will to change the whole way we live in order to secure a healthy future? Can we turn the tide?
I think we can. We've done it before, with tobacco and seat belts. And the kids in these new films give me hope. They offer clear examples of the kind of perseverance required to win the small but real victories that will lead to the ultimate goal.
For the sake of our children, we must all learn from these examples, spread them across the land and dedicate ourselves to reducing the weight of the nation.
The Weight of the Nation for Kids premieres on HBO on May 7th at 5:30 EST. It is also available to anyone with access to a computer at http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com. The original version of this post appeared on the blog of The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, one of the partners behind The Weight of the Nation series.