It has been estimated by various sources that 1 in 3 American children are overweight, and obesity in children is an increasing concern in our society. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that obese youth are more likely to encounter cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and are at greater risk for bone and joint problems. On a long-term scale, they also are likely to be obese as adults and are at greater risk for multiple forms of cancer. We hear so much about the problem, little about the solution, and almost never do we hear about the human stories behind this growing epidemic.
The documentary film, “BITE SIZE,” sheds light on the struggle, challenges and triumphs of four overweight children. Their stories are emotional, heart breaking and inspiring. We follow each kid to see their fight to be active and happy while balancing their weight at home, in school, and throughout their social lives. It is incredibly eye opening. Recently, I was given the opportunity to screen said film and interview the director, Corbin Billings, for a behind the scenes look at the film.
Kate: Each child filmed is receiving treatment or support from a different organization. Can you give us an overview of their stories?
Corbin: Each child (and in some cases, their family too) approached the journey to a healthier lifestyle in different realms. We approached it on four fronts – school sports, local community groups, school support groups and weight loss facilities geared specifically towards children.
While each child is dealing with the challenge of childhood obesity they all experience the same challenges like toxic food environments and negligent or ignorant parents. But it takes more of a psychological approach than anything, looking at what it takes for a child to feel accountable and supported. The more we got to know each child the more obviously their determination became. They never wanted to give up and they all realized their self worth.
Kate: Across several of the stories there seems as though there is a struggle between who is responsible for the children’s health and wellbeing: home or school. Can you offer your perspective?
Corbin: Everything starts at home and everything ends at home. Kids are at school for the minority of the day. In most schools, resources are scarce. They can’t get the gym equipment that they need or support for extracurricular wellness programming. The truth is, the habits that result in obesity start at home and are emulated by parental role models. For example, when we follow KeAnna we see the Mississippi food culture. There we also see that obesity isn’t the problem, it’s a result of the other problems that have manifested as a result of that culture: the fast food, the lack of obesity prevention education and the overall social acceptance at being obese. For any person who needs to make a major change, regardless of what kind of change, the solution and the will to be apart of the solution needs to start inside yourself. But it all starts at home, and kids have to be supported by their parents and families to succeed.
Kate: Throughout the film, I was impressed with how self-aware all of these children were, as well as aware of the harsh realities of the world around them. How do you think the challenge of weight loss, and the gravity of their poor health caused them to grow wiser beyond their years?
Corbin: All of these children are suffering incredible challenges. Emily, was told by doctors she would die if she didn’t make a serious change to her lifestyle. Another child, Damien, grapples with immortality as a result of his diabetes. They’re under a microscope and therefore are very aware of the world around them. Most kids their age go to the doctor for broken bones, or a sore throat. They’re reality is much more serious.
Emily Patrick, 12 years old. Emily details her two summers spent a weight loss facility she describes as, “The Biggest Loser for kids.” Emily’s parents drained their savings accounts in order to finance her tuition.
Kate: Can you leave me with your biggest takeaway or observation from making this documentary?
Corbin: These kids are coming from diverse backgrounds, so our first challenge when making this film was to combat perceptions that obesity only exists in certain economic classes or races. This documentary proves that the youth obesity epidemic defies stereotypes have taught us. It’s not just the poorer demographics. It’s not just Latino or African American cultures. Everyone has a struggle, throughout personal perseverance and that “fire” they’re not victims of their circumstances with the inspiration of role models. It is possible. With that comes a great understanding that this issue is not determined by race, socioeconomic status. This is an American issue. We all eat. We all struggle. The main takeaway: a general cultural shift – gives hope. Find the light where you can. In the end, growing something in your garden, dancing, there is more joy in that then sitting back and finding defeat. Empower yourself.
KeAnna Pollard, 12 years old. With the help of a school guidance counselor, KeAnna and her friends support each other through an after school program, Si, Se Puede, which is Spanish for Yes, I can. Si, Se Puede gets the girls moving through dance, and offers health and wellness resources that would otherwise be unavailable.