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Making Healthy Choices: Fighting Teen Obesity

Distributed by Human Relations Media, 41 Kensico Drive, Mt. Kisco, NY 10549; 800-431-2050
Produced by Yuval Lion
Directed by Yuval Lion
DVD, color, 21 min.
Jr. High - General Adult
Health Sciences, Nutrition, Obesity, Adolescence

Reviewed by Charles J. Greenberg, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University

Date Entered: 5/23/2013

Educational videos share much in common with other classroom materials. Even if youth are the intended audience, adults with their own set of priorities, agendas, and familiarity (or not) will initiate the purchase. A well-organized, packaged, and presented lesson could be a valuable acquisition, particularly if it seems to fill a gap and is succinct. An educational video is not an experimental design that controls for bias, but more than likely “edutainment.” Making Healthy Choices: Fighting Teen Obesity attempts a rather modest goal: present coherent definitions, a small number of empathetic testimonies from real children, and a minimal amount of scientific authority. A pleasant narrator, the actor Fatye Francis, clones himself into competitive twins to reveal the inner dialogue that every person conducts when eating: the pleasure of salt, sugar, and fat on our palate, versus healthy habits we may have learned. Actor Francis provides a split personality debate between the two perspectives, mediated by a deus ex machine physician, pediatrician Dyan Hes MD that emerges as a mobile device hologram to provide definitive scientific answers to the disagreeing twins. Then Francis introduces that first real spokesperson for healthy habits.

The first young person, Noel, has been struggling with extreme weight for nearly her entire life, which could very well be caused by her own body’s biological imbalances, though she does testify about her new healthy lifestyle and weight reduction. We see many pictures of her childhood and adolescence during her narration, as well as her honest assessment of the challenges she faces with determination.

After Noel’s presentation, the cloned twin narrators return to provide some examples of how calories, sodium, and cholesterol add up in a typical meal items such as hamburgers, ice cream, soda, and alternatives such as water or a plain croissant. The twins also do a demonstration of how many teaspoons of sugar (10) are in a can of soda.

The second visual biography we hear comes from a student named Emma, who discusses eating choices and how fad dieting did not lead to permanent weight loss. The audience follows her on going to a restaurant and selecting low calorie entrees and ordering salad dressing on the side. We also see Emma shopping and cooking with her mom, talking very positively about healthy choices and nutritious variety.

The narration returns with Dr. Hes talking about portion control and strategies like splitting restaurant orders and eat slowly. The audience hears more than once that the brain registration of feeling full runs 20 minutes behind being full, which is supposed to encourage slower eating. One of our narrator twins happens to not only have questionable eating habits but is also video game aficionado, which leads into the third real testimonial, a young man named Forrest that not only overcame a weight problem but now stays in shape with lots of exercise. Not only is Forrest an effective speaker, but he also shows how fun things like bike riding and skate boarding are good exercise. He also plays squash energetically on camera.

At the end of the video, the narrators return to review the main healthy choice lessons learned: avoid sugary drinks, eat a balanced diet, eat slowly, avoid fad diets, and daily exercise. Then the twins merge into a unified Francis.

A video workbook with quiz material for class discussion and use is contained as a PDF on the DVD version. Making Healthy Choices: Fighting Teen Obesity has perfect transitions and a pleasant guitar and piano audio soundtrack, strong performances by real children, and an upbeat and gently humorous narrator in Fatye Francis. Yet I have some concerns.

I have to admit that this 21 minute video meal was really sweet, like one of those sugary drinks. The children were polite and polished, no visible poverty. There is a simple message and rather modest goals that are hardly a revelation. Though some introductory and explanatory words are devoted to the obesity crisis, the video presentation is not one of urgency or crisis. It strikes me that a harried health teacher might appreciate such a positive, unemotional, simple message as an uncontroversial way to deliver an important topic…. in a class of well-behaved and focused students. How many classes fit this ideal template? Not many.

How bad is the obesity crisis? If you find the article “Pediatric Obesity: Etiology and Treatment,” a 2011 article in Pediatric Clinics of North America, (author manuscript in PubMed Central), you will see this passage:

“The current childhood obesity epidemic in the United States also has the potential to reverse the improvements in life expectancy that have been seen during the twentieth century and to result in more functional disability and decreased quality of life for those who survive to old age.”
This is a real crisis. The narrator of this film could have said those words, but I am not convinced it would penetrate the consciousness or alter the behavior of most teens. I do not think the existing narration, testimonials, and physician commentary, however well-intentioned and executed, have a possibility of turning on the crisis mode button in the average child or teen in terms of their own health. But we can hope so.

Making Healthy Choices: Fighting Teen Obesity is recommended for all public, academic, and high school audiences.