2012-05-15

Co.Exist

Why HBO Is Opening Salad Bars In Elementary Schools

HBO’s ambitious new documentary on the obesity crisis is accompanied by a massive awareness campaign, and even outright attempts to get our kids better food.

You might come to HBO for Game of Thrones or Girls, but the channel hopes you’ll stay for a sobering look at the state of the nation’s obesity crisis—and hopefully be motivated to change your life for the better. HBO’s new miniseries The Weight of the Nation is an ambitious look at obesity, but it’s also a massive public health campaign with the weight of a massive media company behind it.

The miniseries (whose first episode aired last night) is paired with a companion book, tens of thousands of free copies for community organizations, and a companion children’s version. Executive Producer John Hoffman, a vice president at HBO Documentary Films, collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Institute of Medicine, and a number of philanthropists and health care giants to make the film.

Hoffman, an old hand at ambitious health documentaries, managed to gain the confidence of patients and health care providers around the country to collaborate on the film. Previous projects from the filmmaker include The Alzheimer’s Project and The Addiction Project. In an interview, Hoffman told Co.Exist that the companion book is intended as a stand-alone product for practical advice on weight loss and detailed information on America’s obesity crisis. As Hoffman put it, it’s intended to be an “anti-diet book” that goes into more depth than the “emotional” television documentary.

The CDC and NIH played a major role in locating patients and medical professionals to appear in the film. Hoffman says he hopes to use television to build “a major public health campaign.” Partly because of his partnership with the CDC, NIH, and Institute of Medicine, hospitals were extremely willing to give access to patients interested in talking on-camera about their obesity struggles. In the three years it took to film the project, the filmmakers spoke to hundreds of subjects. Those were winnowed down to 40 interviewees, though HBO is making bonus footage from the miniseries available online as well.

Approximately 40,000 copies of The Weight of the Nation will be distributed free of charge to community organizations along with a bilingual (English-Spanish) discussion guide. The companion children’s program, The Weight of the Nation for Kids, will air on HBO starting on May 16. Significant support for the children’s program was offered by Whole Foods’ Whole Kids Foundation. In preparation for the documentary’s airing, HBO and the Whole Kids Foundation entered into an agreement to fund 100 salad bars in schools across America. Whole Kids has been engaged in a long-term project to install 6,000 salad bars in public schools nationwide.

HBO will also make Weight available for free online streaming.

The HBO documentary four part series, [i]The Weight of the Nation, debuts on HBO and HBO.com on May 14th and May 15th. All clips courtesy of HBO.[/i]

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