Trailer for The Weight of the Nation

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PART 3: Children in Crisis Watch Now

Childhood obesity is much more than a cosmetic concern. The health consequences of childhood obesity include greater risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma and other serious illnesses. The combination of these health effects and the dramatic increase in childhood obesity rates over the past three decades causes some experts to fear this may be the first generation of American children who will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Strategies like cutting out TV and sugar-sweetened drinks may help reduce a child’s weight or prevent future weight gain, but not always for the reasons we expect. There is a link between TV watching and overweight and obesity among children. While the act of watching TV - being sedentary and possibly eating snacks while taking in a favorite show - is part of the problem, experts are now looking at what kids watch as well. There is a growing debate over the effects of food marketing on the childhood obesity epidemic and what should be done about it.

For parents of obese children, responsible parenting means more than tackling health challenges head on. It also means doing the hard work of finding supportive, healthy communities that will instill long-term habits that promote healthy living. And it means knowing that some day, every child will be an adult who deserves to know that their parents did all they could to help them grow up healthy and happy. Changes to school lunches are one way to make a major dent in the childhood obesity epidemic. But in too many schools across the country, the lunches being served don’t meet all of the federal government’s guidelines for nutrition. Moreover, the obstacles to changing our National School Lunch Program and the food served in cafeterias across the country are formidable.

Consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, including juice drinks, is also associated with obesity and accounts for more added sugar in our children’s daily diet than any other food. Replacing sports drinks, soda and other sugary drinks and limiting your intake of 100% fruit juice are effective straightforward ways to start the journey to healthier behaviors and lower body fat for kids and adults.

Beyond proper diet, kids need physical activity to lead a healthy lifestyle. With the rise of video games and the decline of physical education in schools, being active isn’t as easy or common for today’s kids.

Schools can become the centerpiece of public efforts to ensure that kids participate in physical activity and develop healthier lifestyles that can last a lifetime. And it makes perfect sense for them to do so: not only will they be nurturing the growth and development of the whole child, but research links physical activity with improved learning capacity. “If they’re not bouncing up and down in gym, they’re going to be bouncing off the walls in class,” says the director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas Frieden. Unfortunately, P.E. has become a low priority in some of our nation’s schools.

The good news is that there are resources available for concerned parents who want to help their kids. With hard work, we can improve the health of our children. The bad news is that there are many barriers to achieving these goals and, unfortunately, a lot of parents don’t yet recognize the seriousness of obesity-related health issues and the help their children need to overcome the obstacles in their environment.

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Film Credits

Executive Producers Sheila Nevins, John Hoffman; Parts 1 & 3 produced by John Hoffman, Editor Paula Heredia; Part 2 produced by John Hoffman, Dan Chaykin, Directed by Dan Chaykin, Editor Jennifer Mcgarrity; Part 4 produced by John Hoffman, Dan Chaykin, Directed by Dan Chaykin, Editors Paula Heredia, Jennifer McGarrity, Charlton McMillan, Bruce Shaw; Parts 1- 4 Producer Sarah Teale, Director of Photography Dyanna Taylor, Original Music Wendy Blackstone, Adam Dorn, Daniel Freiberg, Graphic Design Todd Ruff, Co-Producers Tomek Gross, Alexandra Moss, Sonia Dulay Ricci, Production Executive Susan Benaroya, Line Producer Ellin Baumel, Post Production Supervisor Kate Barry