July 2006: Some Body! at the Hall of Health
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than twice as many children are overweight now than three decades ago. For pre-teens and teenagers, the issue of healthy weight is even more complicated. These children are subjected to advertising, peer pressure, and other outside forces that influence their concepts of body image.
A new field trip program of the Hall of Health, Some Body!, aims to educate 10- to 14-year-olds about several aspects of body image. It describes the consequences of being over- or under-weight, and it provides information about making healthy food choices.
With funding from IMLS, the museum purchased the Some Body! program from the Children’s Health Education Center in Milwaukee, a division of the Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee that offers programs with engaging models, hands-on learning, and cutting-edge technology for dynamic group learning. The Hall of Health modified the program to complement its own nutrition exhibits and studied the program’s effectiveness. The program has since become one of the on-going field trip offerings of the museum.
Project Design and Goals
Staff at the Hall of Health hoped the off-the-shelf program would be ready to implement when it arrived. The PowerPoint presentation included video clips, discussions, and hands-on activities for teachers and students. But the museum soon realized that the two-hour auditorium presentation would need to be shortened for their venue, so it could be used with its existing and planned hands-on exhibits on nutrition.
When the museum’s new "Healthy Pizza Kitchen" is complete, children will be able to pretend to create their own healthy pizzas with ingredients from all the major food groups and menus with the nutritional information on all of the potential toppings.
The museum condensed the program to 45 minutes so it could be combined with a 45-minute tour of its nutrition exhibits to make an hour and a half field trip for classes.
The original objectives of the program centered on the body image theme:
• To increase knowledge of body image in the target age group
• To provide resources to teachers and youth to help them achieve and maintain a positive body image
• To decrease the number of students who succumb to pressure concerning unhealthy body image behaviors due to outside influences, such as media, family, and peers
The dangers of anorexia and bulimia, the eating disorders that can affect adolescents, were a part of the original Some Body! program.
During the initial phase of the grant the presentation was modified by the museum, materials were ordered, and all of the museum’s employees—including work-study students—were trained by an instructor sent from Milwaukee on presenting the program. Plans were also made during this time for conducting formative and summative evaluations.
Plan in Action
The Hall of Health began offering the field trip to schools in the San Francisco Bay area in February 2004. Both teachers and students were receptive to the main themes of the program and found some of the hands-on activities very illuminating.
In one activity the presenter sets out various drink bottles, including a soft drink, water, fruit juice, and a sport drink. A student volunteer is selected to line the bottles up from highest sugar content to lowest. The presenter then takes out a set of containers with the actual amount of sugar contained in each drink. Museum Director Lucy Day said that participants are always amazed to see how much sugar is in the most popular drinks.
Another activity prompts students to look critically at advertisements. The presenter shows them several ads and asks them to guess what kind of product the ad is selling. An image of a thin, well-dressed woman, for example, may be used in an advertisement for a hair product, a lotion, or even a car. Students begin to realize that there are hidden messages in the ads, messages that imply ideas like: "If you buy this car, you will look like this woman." Day said, "When you start analyzing the messages in some advertisements, you see they break down into absurdity."
Soon after the museum began to offer the program, the museum realized that the issue of obesity needed greater attention. The large minority population the museum serves has a higher incidence of obesity than other eating disorders. Also, childhood obesity is a prevalent problem nationwide.
Day said that while the students generally are aware of the importance of eating right and exercise, they aren’t aware of the serious health consequences of failing to do so. She said, "The problem of obesity in this country is affecting not just adults but children, and it’s not just a matter of being overweight in and of itself, but it leads to a series of health consequences including heart disease and a greater incidence of diabetes."
More than 2,000 students and 200 adult chaperones (including teachers and parents) have attended the field trip since the museum first offered it in February 2004.
The museum has conducted evaluations with student and teacher questionnaires, interviews, and pre/post-field trip surveys. Formative evaluation was conducted during the first and second year of the program to gather information to fine-tune the program. During this evaluation period, museum staff not only realized the need for more emphasis on the issue of obesity, they also learned that many fourth-grade teachers were requesting the program. From the evaluation, the museum learned that the teachers, across the board, thought the program had great educational value and that students understood the program messages.
The summative evaluation was conducted during the final year of the grant. From it, the museum learned that both students and teachers rated the program very positively. On a scale of 1 to 10, students rated it an average of 8.9 and teachers rated it an average of 8.4. Interview questions and a pre/post survey were used, indicating that there was a small, but statistically significant increase in students’ understanding of the program’s key concepts.
Hoover Elementary School teacher Mark Louie has taken two of his fifth-grade classes to the museum for the Some Body!
field trip. He believes that nutrition, physical health, and mental health are strongly linked, and he puts a large emphasis on physical fitness in his classes. He said that his children really got the messages presented at the field trip. Although his minority students face many challenges, he has seen his students strive to make healthier choices. The children who participated in the program, he said, especially those who are overweight, did try to change the snacks they ate at school and made greater efforts at physical activity.