Better Off Well


It Takes A Village: Review of Bite Size Movie

Keanna is 13. She sits with a group of girls from her school. The school's counselor, Lisa Ross, has brought them all together in an attempt to avoid her fate, struggling with Type II diabetes. "You are all beautiful," Ms. Ross tells them. But Keanna and her friends hang their heads, as if they don't believe it. As if this were the first time they had ever heard these words.

bite size

Bite Size is a powerful film. Like Fed Up, this documentary follows four children struggling with obesity. But that's where the similarity stops. Bite Size is not narrated. There is no one interviewing. The stories of these children are told entirely through the lens and with the words of the children and their families.

Keanna lives in Mississippi, the state with the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. She loves to dance and her face lights up when she smiles. She laughs as she shares with the group her most embarrassing story, breaking a desk that she sat on. Ms. Ross explains that the laughter is part of the walls these girls have put up, to hide the pain they feel.

12 year-old Davion also lives in Mississippi. "I'm football material. That's what my dad always told me." When Davion begins football practice, he cannot run the distance of the field. The school nurse calls him over to check his blood sugar. Davion has Type II diabetes. Once referred to as "adult-onset" diabetes and linked to obesity and lifestyle, it was re-named because so many children now live with the disease.

Then there is Emily. At 213 pounds, Emily was sent to Mindstream Academy, a health and fitness boarding school where children are taught new lifestyle habits, like how to read labels and to stay active. Emily says it's like The Biggest Loser for kids.

Moy is 11. The youngest of the featured children, he is not yet obese but struggling with weight nonetheless. Moy likes to play video games and make movies with his friend. "I feel like I shouldn't be on the computer so much," he says, "but there's nothing else I want to do."

While rates of childhood obesity have markedly decreased in the past decade for children aged 2-5, obesity rates in children still remain high, around 17%- or 12.7 million children. Bite Size shows the impact of these statistics in a very non-statistical way.

"The worst thing that ever happened to me was when a friend said to me I'll get made fun of if I'm seen around you," says Emily.

Through the acute direction of Corbin Billings, we get to see the pain that comes with bullying, low self-image, and feeling outcast.

Bite Size raises serious questions, though.

Is obesity because of personal choice? Many would argue yes.

Soon after Emily's return from Mindstream, the family brings home buckets of KFC. The fridge is filled with soda. Moy's father tells his son he is a "couch potato" and calls to him to get off the computer while he sits in front of the screen himself. Moy's mother cooks vegetables for her son, but her meals and the fruit she buys for Moy to snack on cannot compete with the bags of Cheetos her husband brings home. Keanna's father will not touch a vegetable.

Then there is the wider community. Mississippi is one giant food dessert. There are no health food stores. Even mainstream grocery stores are hard to come by. Fast food restaurants line the main streets, and in a country where fast, processed food is made cheap through government subsidies, the choice to eat fast and processed is an easy one here.

Lisa Ross breaks down while on the phone with the district superintendent's office. The physical education department for the school gets a stipend of $250 for the year. There is no gym equipment, and once again she has been denied funding.

Is obesity solely because of personal choice?

While Bite Size presents a gloomy image of the state of health in this country, it leaves us with a brighter side, too. A message of empowerment. Changes begin to happen in some of the families around food and exercise, but perhaps the most empowering change of all is the boost in self-esteem these children get from their coaches and teachers.

"It's not about weight loss," says Emily, "it's just about learning what keeps you active AND what makes you happy."

I give this movie an A and recommend you watch with your kids. (Available now through Vimeo and through Google Play and Amazon on March 24th.) Share with your health teachers. There's much to discuss here. How does bullying affect the health of a child? How can parents help to create health-promoting lifestyles? What role does the government play in encouraging obesity?

If anything, this film underscores the idea that it really does take a village to raise a child.