April 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW1
All Foods Can Fit - All People Can Fit: Using Plays about Food To Promote Healthy Eating and Body Image to Young Children
A majority of girls and young women struggle with body image, food and weight problems. Extension Educators have utilized "All Foods Can Fit - All People Can Fit," a musical production designed to help address the development of a healthy body image. Children learn that all foods can be a part of a healthy diet, and that regardless of one's physical appearance, all are equal. Qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods show that the messages of balance, variety, and moderation and healthy body image were received by a majority of the children.
Most girls and young women are dissatisfied with their bodies, particularly their body size and shape. Many attempt to alter their size and shape by dieting or by using more extreme methods of weight control, including self-starvation, self-induced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, or strenuous exercise. The reality of widespread body image problems among females has been linked to cultural pressures to conform to an unrealistic ideal of beauty, one that is young, able-bodied, flawless, athletic, and above all, thin (Crook, 1991).
Pre-occupation with body image is socialized into girls from the time they are very young. Through socialization, children of both sexes learn that girls' bodies are to be made more beautiful, while boys bodies are to be developed and strengthened (Rindskopt & Gratch, 1982). Body image is an individual's experience of his/her body. It is the mental picture a person has of his/her body as well as the individual's associated thoughts, feelings, judgements, sensations, awareness, and behavior. Body image is not a static concept. It is developed through interactions with people and the social world, changing across the life span in response to changing feedback.
Education in the area of healthy body image is important for young children. It is often easier to encourage healthy habits and body image during initial behavior development than later in life. Education should begin early in an effort to positively influence a child's self image and habits, ones that will hopefully last into and throughout adulthood (Vance, 1973).
Extension educators in South Carolina have developed and implemented "All Foods Can Fit - All People Can Fit," a musical production developed to help create this awareness in young children through creative teaching techniques. The "All Foods Can Fit" component incorporates the concepts of balance, variety, and moderation. Children learn that all foods can be a part of a healthy diet, that there are no "good" foods or "bad" foods. The "All People Can Fit" component incorporates the concept that regardless of one's physical appearance, all are equal. Children learn that things turn out better and are more fun if they accept each other's differences and work or play together.
These themes are creatively exhibited through a musical production. In the opening act, a 12-year-old boy communicates a dislike for the foods he is served for the evening meal. Later, as he sleeps, he dreams.he is in the land of food. There, he learns about healthy eating and getting along with others by observing scenarios performed by Butch the Hamburger and Tony the Pizza, who are children in costumes. In the final act, the child and his parents are back at the table, but this time he is excited about the same food being served. He explains to his parents and siblings that he learned about balance, variety, and moderation in his dream the night before.
A 20-minute video of the musical production has been made and is being used with pre-school and elementary school-age children. The script and music are available to schools and church groups so they can organize live performances for their youth audiences. The script includes a description of the target audience, the cast of characters, description of the character and costumes, scene descriptions, lines and actions of actors, and words to the songs.
The musical production concept was a modification of the 1997 American Dietetic Association National Nutrition Month theme. Nutrition and youth development specialists provided information regarding nutrition content and age appropriateness. As part of a summer internship program, a university theater student assisted with script writing; recruitment, selection, and training of young actors; directing and staging the production; back stage duties such as makeup and costumes; and filming the production. The music was composed and recorded by two university music students. University production specialists and videographers conducted the filming of the musical and coordinated the video editing process.
The entire production process from the initial script writing to the final video editing was conducted during a three month period during the summer. Coordinating the production was a time intensive process. Recruitment of volunteer actors was done through personal contact with youth choir groups in local churches. Scheduling, maintaining, and transporting the children to rehearsal sessions was a challenge. The production provided an excellent learning experience for the student intern. However, the student's relative inexperience slowed the production process. The professional services and studio equipment and space provided by the university communications department were essential for the production of a high quality video.
Qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods were utilized. Pre- and post-test evaluations of knowledge were conducted by teachers showing the video. Evaluation of pre-schoolers was through verbal question and answer. Evaluations of youth with reading skills were simple true and false or multiple choice questions with corresponding pictures. Evaluations of the video show that the messages of balance, variety, and moderation and healthy body image were received by a majority of the children, (96.7%) and (92.9%) respectively. Observation and comments from the children demonstrate enjoyment of the upbeat music, the children in food costumes, and the video format.
The concepts presented in "All Foods Can Fit - All People Can Fit" are important components of a healthy lifestyle education program for young children. This study reveals that by utilizing innovative teaching strategies such as a musical production, educators can help stimulate positive attitudes about body image, good nutrition, and healthy eating habits. Educators will benefit from incorporating similar instructional practices that address the social, emotional, physical, aesthetic, and intellectual needs of young children.
Crook, M. (1991). The body image trap. Vancouver, BC: Self-Counsel Press.
Rindskopt, K. D. & Gratch, S. E. (1982). Women and exercise: A therapeutic approach. Women and Therapy. 1(4): 15-25.
Vance, B. (1973). Teaching the pre-kindergarten child: Instruction design and curriculum. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.