Tell adolescents that soda contains too much sugar and you get blank stares. Show them a clear measuring cup with the 10 teaspoons of the granular substance and there's an audible murmur in the crowd.
Tell a teenage girl that with anorexia nervosa she may lose 20 percent of her bone mass and you get little reaction. But show a bone with swiss-cheese holes and, once again, you've made an impression.
Throw in a few laughs along the way broccoli dancing to bad rap or a quip like, "There's no proof smoking is bad for you, other than the dead people" and you have the makings of a health education program that adolescents watch, absorb and probably tell their families about later.
That's the theory behind Intermountain Healthcare's decision to include a 45-minute play in its LiVe public service education campaign. "LiVe This Is Your Life" will tour 225 Utah and southeastern Idaho middle schools and junior highs over the next three years to educate adolescents about the importance of adopting healthy choices like good nutrition and physical activity into their lives. The production, by Massachusetts- based FoodPlay Productions specifically for Intermountain and SelectHealth, kicked off Tuesday at Granite Park Junior High in Salt Lake City. (An earlier version previously visited some schools in a pilot project.)
The two-character show looks at everything from obesity to eating disorders, body image and unhealthy media messages. Foodbill executive director Barbara Storper says they're using "the power of live theater to turn kids on to healthy eating and exercise habits." Live theater, she adds, has proven to be "an incredibly effective modality to educate kids."
Mass media comes in for strong criticism as the troupe strives to help youths "outsmart" advertisers, Storper says. If they buy into even a portion of the 10,000 ads most have already seen, they become "victims" of those advertisers, which frequently peddle unrealistic body image ideals and junky food.
The production also includes a playbill with healthy tips from the characters, Angie and Jack, who are homegrown actors Angelica Barquero and Jack Diamond, and links to relevant health resources online. Teachers are provided with a LiVe activity guidebook with hands-on lesson plans and activity sheets.
One of the program highlights is the appearance of a life-size, proportional Barbie doll at a mock trial complete with a 16-inch waist, considerably larger chest and improbably small hips and feet.
The show also contains some troubling facts: Two-thirds of fourth-graders have already been on a diet, teens drink an average of 750 cans of soda a year and 80 percent of TV food ads targeting children promote foods that are sugary and unhealthy, for instance.There's also good news: Exercise builds bones, reduces stress and weight, keeps you fit, eases depression and helps you look and feel good.