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Documentary addresses rampant obesity

A new documentary, “Big Healthy Life: what’s your recipe?,” is scheduled to premiere this month as part of a campaign to help young people and parents understand the life-long effects of nutrition and exercise habits.

It shows how healthy eating and regular exercise can promote better health and reduce the risk of disease and medical costs later in life. It also highlights some community issues like having access to nutritious food and safe places to exercise can help families establish healthier habits.

Promotional material for the documentary “Big Healthy Life.” (Courtesy of Christopher Productions)

A free public premiere of the documentary will be shown at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19, at the South Broadway Cultural Center, 1025 Broadway Blvd. SE in Albuquerque. The documentary will air on local broadcast stations throughout the state, beginning Saturday, Aug. 26.

The target audience will be teenagers, parents, educators and community leaders, according to Chris Schueler of Christopher Productions, who produced the documentary with support from city, county and state organizations, health insurance providers and other health related organizations.

He said his company produces documentaries on contemporary issues. This one is based on conversations with teenagers around New Mexico.

“We need to understand the impact that obesity and overweight has on health, and the health care system long term. How it will cost us all, in families and our pocketbooks,” Schueler said. His hope is that the campaign will spur community leaders, educators and citizens to start thinking about solutions.

The documentary starts by pointing out 47 million children consume sugary drinks daily and quotes some dire statistics. According to Rita Condon, manager of the Obesity, Nutrition & Physical Activity Program at New Mexico Dept. of Health, one four of kindergarten students are overweight or obese – by third grade, 34 percent are overweight or obese, while 65 percent of New Mexico adults are overweight or obese.

Pediatrician Sylvia Negrete, medical director of the University of New Mexico Healthy and Fit Children’s Clinic said she is seeing more overweight youngsters showing up with diseases previously only seen in adults – hypertension, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and sleep apnea problems.

“I first became aware of this around 2005 to 2006 and it has gotten worse,” Negrete said.

Weight issues can also affect academic performance.

“What we know in the brain is that the hippocampus is smaller in people who have obesity. Why is that important? Because the hippocampus is where we store memory. Children with obesity are not doing as well in school and if it’s related to the fact that their memory is not as good as when in shape that would make a lot of sense,” Susan Scott, a pediatric endocrinologist affiliated with UNM Hospital, says in the film.

The documentary looks at some of the reasons why kids eat high-calorie foods with low nutritional value. Students from V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho say it’s easier to grab a back of chips than drive to find organic food that’s usually more expensive.

Alissa Barnes, director of community initiatives for Road Runner Food Bank says 75 percent of those who visit their facility report knowingly buying cheaper, unhealthy foods because it was all they could afford.

Another factor contributing to childhood obesity, says Dr. Monique Vallabhan of UNM Children’s Hospital, is both parents working and technology, so kids are stuck inside watching TV, on their computers or cellphones.

Vallabhan and others talk about ways to change diet by avoiding sugary drinks and incorporating more fresh vegetables into meals. Dr. Anthony Fleg, UNM assistant professor in Family and Community Medicine, talks about the value of families exercising together. Fleg oversees a club called “Running Medicine” that welcomes people of all ages to get out in the evening to walk or run together in a fun and relaxed manner.

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