County residents and elected officials gathered on May 15 at Prince George's Community College to participate in the growing movement to end the obesity crisis plaguing America. Nearly 300 people came to the Rennie Forum to view "The Weight of the Nation" -- a film presentation of HBO and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and in partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente.
This four-part documentary series provides viewers with the opportunity to learn about what is really behind the obesity epidemic in America.
It shines a light on our nation's manipulated food and food systems; barriers to physical activity; psychosocial and cultural influences on obesity; the role of marketing in what we choose to eat; as well as the physiological aspects of obesity.
By telling the complex and evolving story of obesity, The Weight of the Nation serves as a catalyst for residents, communities and organizations to engage in dialogues and to take action to change the course of obesity in America. The film makes it clear that to do nothing will cause increased burdens on many of our systems (e.g., health care, economy, transportation, etc.) and jeopardize our collective health and well-being.
During the screening, Prince George's County Acting Health Director Pamela Creekmur provided statistics on obesity in the County—a place where the percentage of overweight or obese residents is among the highest in the state and the nation. Those rates have increased steadily since 1995 for both adults and children. As a result, Prince George's County residents suffer from some of the highest rates of chronic disease (e.g., obesity and hypertension) in the state. In response to those dire statistics, Kaiser Permanente has committed to promoting dialogue and action at the community level to take on obesity and related chronic illness. The Weight of the Nation is one focus of their efforts. In addition, there are numerous community based organizations such as the Port Towns Community Health Partnership that continue to engage in advocacy efforts that increase access to healthy food and safe places for outdoor physical activity, as well as educating residents about the many issues that factor into high rates of obesity and chronic disease in the County.
Residents in attendance at the May screening also participated in an interactive dialogue. In response to a question regarding with whom responsibility lies for obesity, the individual or the community, panelist Maya Rockeymoore said, "Context controls choice. And in many cases we like to think that individuals have the responsibility to make the right choices--but if you step out into the community and your choices are limited by what's available...low-income communities oversaturated with fast food restaurants, lack of access to full service grocery stores (food desserts)... context controls choice. That means that not only is there individual responsibility, there is community responsibility."
"The Weight of the Nation" provides an important tool to spark and continue similar dialogues around the country. For organizations interested in hosting screenings, there are free screening tool kits, including DVDs of all four segments, discussion guides, and event planning materials at http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/.