The staff of TIME's science section has had to put up with a lot of ribbing lately as we put the finishing touches on this week's issue. There's something about being overweight--or, as it turns out, writing about people who are overweight--that seems to bring out the comedian in everyone. But obesity in the U.S. is no laughing matter, and as we've watched the country's waistline grow over the years, we've struggled with how to cover what has become America's greatest health challenge. It wasn't enough anymore to just describe the problem. We needed to know if anyone had any good ideas about how to solve it.
That's when we hit on the two-pronged approach we are taking this week. The first is the special issue you hold in your hands--32 pages of news and analysis on how we got so big and what the experts think can be done about it (plus some tips you can use, like how to calculate your body mass index; for that, go to time.com/obesity) The second is the Summit on Obesity gathering later this week in Williamsburg, Va. Supported by funding from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we've invited more than 400 doctors, nutritionists, corporate leaders, school administrators, health activists, food manufacturers, soft-drink makers, advertisers and government officials--led by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson--to spend three days trying to thrash out an antiobesity action plan.
Once we knew what we wanted to do, the first call we made was to our friends at ABC News. TIME and ABC were just wrapping up a joint reporting effort in Iraq, and we were eager to try it again. We also knew that Peter Jennings had a particular interest in obesity. Last December he produced an hour-long report, How to Get Fat Without Really Trying. "I find the subject fascinating," he says. "It's about more than just diet. It's about social behavior, political behavior and the whole issue of personal responsibility and government interference."
The producers at ABC quickly agreed to be our partners at the summit and set to work on a series of reports, including the stories listed here, that will air all this week on Good Morning America, World News Tonight with Peter Jennings and Nightline. Reports from the series, "Critical Condition: America's Obesity Crisis," will also be featured on World News Tonight Sunday, World News Now, World News This Morning, ABC News Radio and ABCNews.com
Meanwhile, our own reporting efforts were getting under way. David Bjerklie and Michael Lemonick began exploring the evolutionary roots of our appetite for sweets and fatty foods. Christine Gorman tracked down members of the National Weight Control Registry--people who have lost 30 lbs. or more and kept it off for at least a year--to discover the secrets of their success. Alice Park traveled to Pfizer's obesity-research lab in Groton, Conn., to see how new weight-loss drugs are researched and developed. Sora Song pored over dozens of competing diet books, while business writer Daniel Kadlec sampled the fare at Ruby Tuesday, the first restaurant chain to voluntarily list its dishes' calorie, carb, fat and fiber content right on the menu.