News Release

Monday, April 30, 2012

NIH research featured in HBO documentary series on obesity

The Weight of the Nation documentary series and public awareness campaign by the cable network HBO, launching this week, features National Institutes of Health research showing how obesity affects the country's health and how interventions can turn the tide against obesity and its complications.

The network, in consultation with NIH and other major health organizations, developed four documentaries focused on obesity. The project also includes a three-part HBO Family series for kids, 12 short features, a social media campaign, and a nationwide community-based campaign to mobilize action to move the country to a healthier weight.

The films feature several NIH-funded clinical studies that have formed the basis of scientific evidence on the causes and consequences of being overweight or obese, including the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, and Bogalusa Heart Study. The DPP found that even moderate weight loss can help prevent type 2 diabetes. The CARDIA study measures changes in coronary heart disease risk factors. The Bogalusa Heart Study examines how cardiovascular disease develops over time.

“If we don't take the obesity epidemic seriously as individuals and as a nation, we will pay a serious price,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., who appears in all of the main documentaries in the series. “It's going to take diverse and rigorous research to understand the causes of obesity and to identify interventions that work in the real world. The results from federally funded research, as seen in these documentaries, can help to prevent and treat obesity and its complications.”

More than one-third of adults in the United States and nearly 17 percent of the nation's children are obese, which increases their chances of developing many health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, fatty liver disease, and some cancers. In 2008, the nation's obesity-related medical costs were an estimated $147 billion.

In fiscal year 2011, NIH funding for obesity research totaled $830 million. The 2011 Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research highlights the crucial role of research in efforts to reduce obesity, emphasizing moving science from laboratories to clinical trials to practical solutions. The plan is designed to help target efforts and resources in areas most likely to help people.

Results from NIH-funded obesity-related research include:

  • Finding effective lifestyle changes that can be implemented in communities to reduce weight, lower risk factors for heart disease, and prevent or delay type 2 diabetes
  • Finding new targets and pathways for prevention and treatment of obesity, including the role of sleep, and how bacteria in the intestine may have an impact on obesity
  • Finding that exposure in the womb to maternal obesity or diabetes may increase the risk of obesity or diabetes in offspring, suggesting a critical period for intervention
  • Investigating genetic factors contributing to obesity and its complications.

To keep moving forward in the quest to prevent, treat, and reduce obesity and its complications, NIH funds obesity-related clinical trials around the country, including on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md. To find trials in your area and how to enroll, visit NIH's Clinical Research Trials and You website at NIH also supports public education and awareness programs to combat obesity and its complications, including We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition), the Weight-control Information Network and the National Diabetes Education Program.

The documentaries were produced by HBO Documentary Films and the Institute of Medicine, in association with NIH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and in partnership with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente.

Community screenings of the four-part documentary series are taking place now. The series debuts on HBO on May 14 and 15, with two films airing back-to-back each night. On May 16, the first of three films in The Weight of the Nation for Kids airs on HBO Family. The films will stream free on , and may be provided for free by some television carriers.

For more information, go to

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health®