PBS Tackles America's Greatest Health Challenges With high-Impact Primetime Health Programming Initiative

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PBS Press Tour, Pasadena, CA; July 26, 2006 - Responding to the greatest health challenges facing the country today, PBS is launching a primetime Health Initiative in January 2007 that will help Americans come to grips with four urgent health issues that threaten the lives of millions of people. Based on the model of the Emmy Award-winning program THE FORGETTING: A PORTRAIT OF ALZHEIMER'S and its extensive companion outreach project, the PBS Health Initiative begins in January with THE HIDDEN EPIDEMIC: HEART DISEASE IN AMERICA and continues in April with LIFE IN THE FAT LANE: WHAT NO ONE IS TELLING YOU ABOUT LOSING WEIGHT (w.t.). Subsequent programs to educate the public about cancer and depression are currently in development.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in America. Twenty-three million Americans are living with the disease, a staggering 12 percent of the total population. Obesity, often linked to heart disease as well as other life-threatening illnesses, is dramatically on the rise; the number of deaths to which obesity has contributed has increased by 76 percent in just the last 15 years. As these afflictions spiral out of control on a national level, on a personal level heart disease and obesity are taking a devastating toll. The PBS Health Initiative is a wake-up call for action, offering programs that cut through the clutter of medical information to provide realistic and concrete guidance on how individuals and families can take control of their health.

These 90-minute programs will combine compelling stories of individuals and families facing these medical conditions, providing insight into the latest groundbreaking medical research to provide a full picture of the complex physiological, psychological and social factors that are driving the alarming prevalence of heart disease and obesity in America. Each special will be followed by a half-hour program with medical experts to answer questions from a studio audience and provide specific strategies for prevention and treatment. An extensive Web component will direct viewers to information and resources that provide help and support. A nationwide outreach campaign in conjunction with national partner organizations such as WomenHeart and America on the Move and local resources organized by local PBS stations will encourage the public to improve their health.

The PBS Health Initiative's outreach campaign and the half hour programs are both branded "Take One Step," and concentrate on helping Americans to take their first step toward better health. The outreach, targeting families with young children as well as individual adults, will offer effective prevention strategies, local support networks, and patient advocacy programs. Activities will focus early diagnosis, lifestyle changes, and how to find help and support in one's community.

"This is programming with a vital purpose," says John F. Wilson, PBS senior vice president, Programming. "These chronic conditions often intersect, and there are positive changes that we can each make to improve the odds of avoiding these diseases or increase our chances for surviving them. The PBS Health Initiative is designed to leverage the strengths of public broadcasting at the national and local levels, including localized campaigns by our stations to help Americans take control of their health."

The initiative has grown out of an innovative collaboration between Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), which produced THE FORGETTING as well as other Emmy-winning programming, and WGBH, which has often addressed health-care issues through Frontline, Nova and other medical specials.

THE HIDDEN EPIDEMIC: HEART DISEASE IN AMERICA, produced by WGBH Boston, will begin the health initiative in January. Produced by Elizabeth Arledge, the Emmy-award winning producer/director of THE FORGETTING, THE HIDDEN EPIDEMIC showcases the stunning scientific advances that are transforming the field of cardiology, and the effect these changes will have on people stricken with the disease.

"Heart disease is truly America's 'hidden epidemic,'" says Arledge. "Not only because most of us fail to recognize the magnitude of the problem - more people die from it than all forms of cancer combined - but also because the early symptoms are frequently unnoticeable to the patient."

Dramatic personal stories in HEART DISEASE IN AMERICA include that of Ken Christianson, the rare recipient of two transplanted hearts, whom viewers meet at a critical stage following his second surgery; and Victor Galvani, an original and still active participant in the groundbreaking Framingham Heart Study, which since its launch in 1948 has changed the way modern medicine approaches the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of heart disease. Now 92, Victor has been followed in the study by his son and grandson.

"Fifty years ago, most people who had a heart attack died," says Arledge. "THE HIDDEN EPIDEMIC explores how today's cardiologists have met the challenge to radically improve the chances of survival."

While obesity is gaining attention as a national public health crisis, being overweight is still primarily viewed as a personal failing. LIFE IN THE FAT LANE: WHAT NO ONE IS TELLING YOU ABOUT LOSING WEIGHT (w.t.) goes beyond the promises of this week's best-selling diet book to explore the many psychological, physiological and environmental factors that can make it so tough to lose weight. "Being fat is not a moral crime, and the stigma often attached to it doesn't recognize the kind of biological barriers, cultural habits, economic realities and social patterns that have so significantly contributed to the nation's expanding waistline," says TPT's Emmy Award-winning executive producer Naomi Boak. "As a society we have to come to terms with these complex factors to reverse this trend."

New scientific understanding of how hunger and eating operate metabolically, a growing awareness of our psychological response to food and increased focus on external pressures such as ever-larger portions in restaurants are all part of the answer to successfully fighting fat, both at the individual and national levels. Personal narratives are the heart of LIFE IN THE FAT LANE, with stories about individuals like Rosie Dehli, who is waging a frustrating battle to lose weight so she can enjoy an active, playful relationship with her grandchild, and America Bracco, a public-health professional in Santa Ana, California, who is working with families to educate them about nutrition while getting the children in her community to move, in school and out.

THE HIDDEN EPIDEMIC is produced by WGBH Boston and executive produced by Laurie Donnelly. It is written, directed and produced by Elizabeth Arledge. LIFE IN THE FAT LANE is produced by Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) and executive produced by Naomi Boak. It is produced and directed by Tom Spain. Funding for the PBS Health Initiative is provided by PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Glaxo Smith Kline Foundation provided additional funding for LIFE IN THE FAT LANE.

WGBH Boston is America's preeminent public broadcasting producer, the source of one-third of PBS' primetime lineup and companion online content as well as many public radio favorites. WGBH is a pioneer in educational multimedia (including the Web, broadband and interactive television) and in technologies and services that make media accessible for people with disabilities. WGBH has been recognized with hundreds of honors: Emmys, Peabodys, DuPont-Columbia Awards - even two Oscars. In 2002, WGBH was honored with a special institutional Peabody Award for 50 years of excellence. For more information, visit wgbh.org

Twin Cities Public Television, the PBS affiliate for Minneapolis/St. Paul, is a prominent producer of national programs for PBS. TPT productions have been honored with over 300 awards, including 25 regional and national Emmys, the duPont-Columbia Commendation, two Peabody Awards and an Academy Award nomination. In both 2003 and 2004, TPT productions garnered the national primetime Emmy for outstanding non-fiction special (BENJAMIN FRANKLIN and THE FORGETTING: A PORTRAIT OF ALZHEIMER'S). The TPT production Hoop Dreams is a Peabody winner and documentary classic that Roger Ebert named the number one film of the 1990s.

PBS is a media enterprise that serves 354 public noncommercial television stations and reaches almost 90 million people each week through on-air and online content. Bringing diverse viewpoints to television and the Internet, PBS provides high-quality documentary and dramatic entertainment, and consistently dominates the most prestigious award competitions. PBS is a leading provider of educational materials for K-12 teachers, and offers a broad array of other educational services. PBS' premier kids' TV programming and Web site, PBS KIDS Online (pbskids.org), continue to be parents' and teachers' most trusted learning environments for children. More information about PBS is available at pbs.org, one of the leading dot-org Web sites on the Internet.


Ellen Dockser, WGBH Boston, 617/300-5338; ellen_dockser@wgbh.org

Karen Salerno, Kelly & Salerno Communications, 914/239-7207; karen@kellysalerno.com