Re­al­ity TV and film valu­able tools in good eat­ing cru­sades

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - SHARON NA­TOLI

CHANG­ING long-held habits is dif­fi­cult, and if you’ve ever tried you’ll un­der­stand what I mean. Of­ten you ar­rive at a de­ci­sion to change full of en­thu­si­asm and an­tic­i­pa­tion, only to ta­per off as the re­al­ity of kick­ing long-held habits sets in and you find your­self slip­ping back into old ways. This is com­mon hu­man be­hav­iour, and when work­ing with in­di­vid­u­als to change their eat­ing habits, it’s one that needs con­stant at­ten­tion in or­der to achieve suc­cess.

We all have our own tool box of tricks to draw on when aiming to main­tain our own mo­ti­va­tion to change, and when it comes to healthy eat­ing, fo­cus­ing on the ben­e­fits of en­joy­ing bet­ter long-term health is one such tool. The older you are, the more rel­e­vant this rea­son be­comes; how­ever, for younger peo­ple, more com­pelling mo­ti­va­tors and ra­tio­nale are re­quired to fa­cil­i­tate di­etary changes that will serve them well in the fu­ture.

New re­search has now high­lighted an in­no­va­tive tool that may prove highly ef­fec­tive when en­cour­ag­ing younger peo­ple to eat well by re­duc­ing their in­take of fast foods. This is im­por­tant as re­cent re­search from Deakin Univer­sity found about one in five teenagers eats fast foods daily, and more than a third rarely or never eat fruit, lead­ing them to con­clude that a sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tion of ado­les­cents have eat­ing habits ‘‘ in­com­pat­i­ble with their long-term health’’.

Af­ter ob­serv­ing the im­pact and pop­u­lar­ity of the 2004 film Su­per­SizeMe, re­searchers in the US de­cided to for­mally test the abil­ity of the film to change the di­etary be­hav­iour and at­ti­tudes to­wards fast food of a group of 135 sub­jects aged 18 to 26. We all re­mem­ber the film where Morgan Spur­lock sub­jects him­self to a fast-food-only diet for a month. What hap­pens to him shocks view­ers and his own med­i­cal team as his weight, choles­terol and blood pres­sure sky­rocket, while his girl­friend ex­pe­ri­ences the fall­out from changes to his mood and li­bido.

In the study, pub­lished in the Jour­nalofthe Amer­i­can Di­etetic As­so­ci­a­tion (2007;107:1197-1203), the group of young adults were in­vited to ei­ther watch Su­per­Size Me or an un­re­lated film. They filled in ques­tion­naires be­fore, im­me­di­ately af­ter the film and nine days later to test their knowl­edge about fast food, their at­ti­tude to­wards it and mo­ti­va­tion to change their eat­ing habits. Re­sults showed that the group watch­ing the film had sig­nif­i­cantly higher rat­ings in all ar­eas, and also felt more em­pow­ered to take con­trol of their eat­ing.

This led the re­searchers to con­clude that the film could be used as a suc­cess­ful be­hav­iour change cat­a­lyst for young peo­ple, and may be par­tic­u­larly ap­pro­pri­ate as part of a broader ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram di­rected at im­prov­ing eat­ing and lifestyle-re­lated habits.

Com­mer­cial films and television pro­grams can in­crease knowl­edge of health is­sues, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously ap­peal­ing to the emo­tions of view­ers. This is ev­i­dent in the cur­rent pop­u­lar­ity of re­al­ity and health-re­lated television shows and pro­grams fo­cused on weight loss. The use of re­al­ity television or film in di­etary ed­u­ca­tion for young peo­ple may be one ef­fec­tive way to cut down on un­healthy food choices, and in­crease the de­sire and mo­ti­va­tion to change and im­prove di­etary habits in a group where tra­di­tion­ally this is chal­leng­ing to ac­com­plish. Sharon Na­toli is an ac­cred­ited prac­tis­ing di­eti­tian and di­rec­tor of Food & Nu­tri­tion Aus­tralia

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