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Obesity Series Showing Texas Schools Debuts

Part of an HBO documentary series on obesity was screened Monday in Austin. Comptroller Susan Combs, who appears in the series, emphasized at the screening that parents need to take charge of their children's health.

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Comptroller Susan Combs, who appears in a new HBO documentary series on obesity, on Monday at a screening championed the need for families to pay close attention to their children's health.

The four-part series, The Weight of the Nation, is part of a public health campaign aimed at reducing obesity. Part three of the series, "Children in Crisis," was shown Monday at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin.

“I just hope for parents with young children who may be overweight, please help take charge of your children’s health,” Combs said. “The parents have a responsibility, to some extent. Schools need to engage with PE and not make it secondary; it’s really important. I hope that businesses will work with their employees — and many are, by the way. Many are working hard to get their employees healthier.”

“Children in Crisis” features doctors, public health experts, professors, policymakers and families with obese children. Parts of the documentary were filmed in Texas, including brief scenes of gym classes at a Round Rock school visited by Combs. Texas was spotlighted as an example of one of 45 states that do not require K-12 physical education.

“PE is one of the smartest investments this state can make,” Combs says in the film. “Prevention is always, always, always cheaper than medicine.”

She later adds, “My belief is that if you give kids the opportunity lifetime to do PE, you will in fact get your money back by reductions in health care.”

Combs notes in the film that Texas has one of the highest rates of obesity among children of all states.

One-third of children in America are overweight, and may have a shorter average lifespan than their parents, according to the documentary. The film points out the dangers of food marketing on children and shows unsuccessful efforts by various federal agencies to persuade Washington lawmakers to set higher standards on advertisers.

“Government has a responsibility to act, but they’re not the whole answer,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, says in the film. “We also need companies to step up, to reformulate their products, to change their marketing practices and to make healthy options available in restaurants.”

The film also takes aim at school lunches, citing a study that found 94 percent of schools served lunch that didn’t meet USDA standards for healthy school meals.

HBO has produced documentaries on drug addiction and Alzheimer’s disease in recent years. Production on the obesity documentary immediately followed the release of the documentary on Alzheimer’s in March 2009, said John Hoffman, executive producer of The Weight of the Nation, who was at the event.

“We decided to turn our lens to obesity because it’s very clear that the problem is much more severe than the nation has previously really acknowledged, and we feel that we can use our platform to sound an alarm that the nation has got to pay attention to obesity,” said Hoffman, who is also vice president of HBO Documentary Films. “It’s just crippling our health care system, and it’s compromising the lives of two-thirds of the nation.”

Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

In addition to the documentary series, the public health campaign also includes a website, a book and free DVDs. Partners in the campaign include the CDC, the Institute of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.

“There’s a lot of work ahead, and it’s going to be difficult,” said Susan Dell, who was also in attendance Monday. “But we owe it to our children to do everything within our power to fight as hard as we can for their health.

All four documentary films will be accessible free of charge on, the first two starting May 14 and the next two from May 15.

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