“Bite Size” Hits the Ground Running

Bite Size

Last week, Childhood Obesity News explored the four individual stories of obese kids from the film Bite Size: Emily, Moy, Davion, and KeAnna.
Guess what just happened over at iTunes? Bite Size has arrived there.

We have said this before, but it is worth restating—this collection of mini-biographies is particularly well-suited to communal viewing and to post-viewing discussion. When a family watches together, they will have some stuff to talk about. For parents, there is no need to be formal or structured. Children will not need encouragement to share their reactions.

In schools, health classes could devote entire semesters to mining the depths of Bite Size. Each story is a rich resource that offers numerous jumping-off points for sharing ideas about aspects of the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity. Ask kids who their favorite child or grownup is, and go from there. For that matter, it could be a date movie. Hashing over the issues it brings up could influence your decision about whether you really want to spend the rest of your life with this person.

Remarks from Bite Size Director Corbin Billings

We asked some questions that were graciously answered by Bite Size director Corbin Billings.

Q: How were the 4 kids found/chosen/recruited/cast?

A. When it came to recruiting the kids to film in Bite Size, the most important thing to me was that the four stories were relatable. We wanted to capture a diverse sample of all the communities commonly afflicted by the obesity epidemic. This meant profiling boys and girls from the Latino, African-American, and White communities. But more important than capturing differences in race and socioeconomic status was identifying replicable solutions people could emulate in any environment. To this end, we searched for children already enrolled in four sectors of obesity prevention: weight loss boarding schools, in-school health and wellness support groups, school team sports, and free community nutrition and exercise classes (like those offered by local YMCAs). The first step was identifying organizations whose missions aligned with our own and were open to allowing us to film. Second, we visited the groups to meet the kids and parents in attendance. I like to say the rest was the result of dumb luck and perseverance.

Q. The received wisdom is that childhood obesity is more prevalent in one-parent homes, which are in fact overwhelmingly single mother homes. Three of the Bite Size kids are in two-parent homes, one has a mother who died, but her father is present. In other words, the proportion of dads here doesn’t match statistical reality. Not that we are implying it should. The question is, how intentional was it that we ended up with four fathers here?

A. True. Statistically, childhood obesity occurs more often in single-parent homes, specifically those run by single moms. This was especially apparent in the Mississippi Delta, the part of the country that struggles most with both adult and childhood obesity, type two diabetes, and teen pregnancy. One of the stories we followed in the region focused on 23 African-American girls, aged 12 to 14, who were united by their school guidance counselor in a health and wellness support group known as “Si Se Puede.” Out of this rather large sample, only one girl, KeAnna, had a relationship with her biological father. Her mother had passed away from breast cancer when she was two years old. Although it was KeAnna’s magnetic and charismatic personality that ultimately convinced us to focus on her specifically, I couldn’t ignore how rare it was to find a girl whose biological father was an active pillar of support. Although it was obvious that KeAnna’s dad loved his daughter with all of his heart, he was far from a perfect role model. For example, he repeatedly refused to change his eating habits and would laugh whenever KeAnna asked him to diet with her. In short, while the stories we focused on in the film did not perfectly mirror the statistics in this way, the reality was evident behind the scenes.

Q. What is your personal take on the question of whether food addiction is comparable to, say, cocaine addiction? Is food addiction a disease comparable to alcoholism?

A. Yes, I believe sugar and highly processed junk foods can be addictive, just like drugs. When we eat, a brain hormone called dopamine is released. We interpret the flood of dopamine as pleasure and the programming in our brain changes to make us want to perform the behavior over and over. Similarly, drugs like cocaine also flood the brain with dopamine. We seek to replicate the euphoria, leading to addiction. Highly processed, sugar-packed foods hijack the same brain pathways as drugs, causing some people to lose control over their cravings and consumption. This point is made evident by one of the students in the film named Emily. She finds it nearly impossible to satiate her craving for sugar, comparing herself repeatedly to a drug addict. In fact, the only way she was able to fight her food addiction (short of asking her parents to put locks on the cabinets) was to enroll in a health and weight loss boarding school she identified as food rehab.

That third reply is especially interesting right now because of the publication in the journal Childhood Obesity of Dr Pretlow’s “Treatment of Child/Adolescent Obesity Using the Addiction Model: A Smartphone App Pilot Study.” All these things contribute toward legitimizing and mainstreaming the concept of looking at the obesity epidemic through the psychological food dependence-addiction lens, as advocated by Dr. Pretlow.

Many thanks to Corbin Billings and everyone involved with the creation of Bite Size!


Image by Bite Size

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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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