Monday, August 27, 2007

Generation XXL Documentary Review

Don't ever say I don't listen to my readers.

Long term reader Geordie asked me last week if I could watch the documentary Generation XXL and comment therein - here are my thoughts.

The documentary is about a group of children from Nova Scotia being sent to a sort of short term fat camp - only it's not exactly a fat camp and I'll get to that a bit later.

The documentary starts with their current lifestyles and from the beginning it's obvious that their environments' are far from ideal food and weight wise.

Of the 4 featured children, Kat, Greg, Raya and Vincent, 3 explicitly reported not eating breakfast.

Kat's mother when confronted by Kat who said she was not supportive pointed out that since Kat was 12 she had been paying for and taking her to Weight Watchers meetings. This same parent in an earlier scene spends time harping on Kat's choice of french fries as opposed to salad.

Vincent goes for dinner at his father's house and either for a snack or for dinner his father made 6 Pillsbury dough puffs and sat down with Vincent to eat them.

Greg's mother comes home and it's dark outside and Greg hasn't had dinner yet and presumably is pretty darn hungry.

Raya's mother admits to providing her with whatever foods she wants and that she herself has a difficult time with food in terms of using it for comfort and pleasure. There's also a great scene of a school dance for Raya where on the dance floor is an at least 8 foot tall poster of what I can only presume to be a dance sponsor featuring 3 gigantic O'Henry chocolate bars.

So the kids get packed up and off to a place called the, "Fit Intervention Program" which according to the Generation XXL website,

"Its primary goal is to create a context that supports overall healthy living that nurtures individual strength."
It's definitely not a typical fat camp as from the documentary it became quite clear the goal of this immersive short term experience for the kids was not weight loss, but rather self-esteem building.

They were taught to cook by chefs, did art therapy course, did have some food instruction (and unfortunately were taught Canada's Food Guide) and were instructed to exercise.

I had mixed feelings about the camp experience. They did not appear to have been taught anything at all about weight management, though that may be due to editing. I mean if you're already getting sent to a place to discuss the impact of weight on yourself as a person, you should probably be taught about calories, hunger prevention and such, but really, I didn't see any of this. They were also seen by an exercise specialist who provided them with pedometers and the unreasonable goal of trying to get 12,000 steps per day. A much better goal would have been to encourage them to get as many steps as they could enjoy so they wouldn't feel like failures when they resumed their real lives and didn't see numbers approaching 12,000.

I absolutely detested the part of the movie where they spent time giving the kids scary articles about risks of weight on cardiovascular disease and cancer. These kids felt plenty of guilt on their own about their weight before being hit with the articles, and given that there was no apparent weight management instructions provided to them other than follow the Food Guide and walk like crazy, I felt the scare tactics were really counter productive and unnecessary.

What I loved about the camp experience was the fact that the kids were really forced to confront how their weight has made them feel but in a manner that empowered them to try to break free from the notion that their weight defines them.

I think the most grievous omission of the camp experience was that it was for the kids and not the parents. Kat's mother should have been taught that the absolute worst thing she could do for Kat would be to ride her about her food and that sending a child to Weight Watchers may well have long term impact on that child's relationship with weight, self esteem and body image. Vincent's dad should have been taught about calories and healthy eating. Raya's mom could have been taught about the role of hunger prevention in reducing the drive to eat for comfort and Greg's mom could have been taught about the importance of eating regularity.

All of the parents should have been taught to live the lives they want their children to live.

By not addressing these kids' parents, and by not really providing the kids with any real weight management tools at best this camp experience provided the kids with improved self esteem and a new outlook on life, but at worst served as the basis for yet another major weight related disappointment.

If I were to be involved in a camp like this it would be with the explicit requirement of a parallel camp for parents where they're taught how to lead by example rather than by criticism or edict.

At the end of the documentary we're given a few telling glimpses into how little these kids learned about actual weight management.

Greg got a job, lost 10lbs and then reported while grabbing his stomach,
"I might have to get liposuction to get this out"
Vincent blamed habit and said that he's not going to change.

Kat lost 8.2lbs and reported being discouraged because she hasn't lost as much as she'd hoped. She then told the camera she's going to live off frozen fruit juice ice cubes and watermelon for the summer while her mother stood by apparently silently approving.

I give the documentary a B+ because it was compelling to watch, but the content as far as helping these kids out I'd give a D.