Reality TV and film valuable tools in good eating crusades
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