Educating Teens About Food, the Most Important Subject of All: Interview With Foodprints Author Paula Ayer

Paula photoAs an Associate Editor at Annick Press, Paula Ayer knows a good book when she reads one. And she sure knows how to write one too. She recently penned an outstanding title for teens called Foodprints, and it is one of the best written and most important nonfiction titles for kids I’ve ever read. Paula takes teens on a journey of discovering the history of our food, what we eat, how the bulk of it is grown on megafarms, how it is marketed, consumed, wasted and so much more. I was so impressed with Foodprints, its usefulness and the important messages it conveys, I wanted to learn more about what went into the making of this comprehensive book and ask Paula what mealtime is like in her home, since she and her young daughter are vegetarians and her husband is a meat eater.

“I didn’t know any other vegetarians, but on a shallow level, I thought it was a cool thing to be, and on a deeper level, I didn’t like the idea that animals had to suffer for my food.”

Growing up in a family that made sausages, can you tell us what inspired you to become a 1420664306-2vegetarian?

I became very interested in food as a teenager and started doing a lot of reading about diet and health, and about how animals are treated in the factory-farm system. This was pre-internet, so I was discovering things through books and magazines. John Robbins’s book Diet for a New America was a big influence. I didn’t know any other vegetarians, but on a shallow level, I thought it was a cool thing to be, and on a deeper level, I didn’t like the idea that animals had to suffer for my food. I don’t know if I made a conscious decision to stop eating meat altogether, but I started eating less and less, and by the time I was 15 I was completely vegetarian. My mom had no idea what to make for me so I started doing some cooking at home, and after a couple of years my parents and brother went vegetarian too! Everyone probably thought we were crazy. It wasn’t so mainstream at the time.

That’s fantastic that you started cooking your own healthy meals as a teen.

I should mention I wasn’t always a healthy vegetarian. For a while I was very concerned about eating only “correct” things, and in the way of many teenagers, I went totally overboard. It took a while to find the right balance.

From what I read it, your husband was raised in a vegetarian family, but now eats meat. So how do you cook at home to please everyone?

10857749_10152950909916151_1074058350431513331_nYes, it’s funny how our diets have followed contrary paths. He was born in India and his family’s background is Hindu and Jain, so he grew up vegetarian. He started eating meat in his teens, right around the age I stopped. There was probably an element of teenage rebellion in both decisions, or at least wanting to step outside of our cultural comfort zones! We cook vegetarian at home and he eats meat mostly when he’s out, and he does make an effort to find organic or free-range meat. Our daughter, who’s five, has so far chosen to be vegetarian, so he’s outnumbered.

© Image of Paula and her five-year-old daughter

What inspired you to write Foodprints for kids?

The preteen and teen years are when many people start to make their own decisions about food. It’s also a time when kids are bombarded with information; so much fast-food and snack-food marketing is targeted at kids and teens, and then they’re seeing stuff on the internet, and hearing scary things about obesity and what they should and shouldn’t eat, and so on. It’s overwhelming, even for adults, and so much of the information out there is misleading or has an agenda (like getting you to buy something). I wanted to help kids make some sense of it, and equip them with the skills to think about information critically, whether it’s a fast-food ad or GMOs or a new diet they hear about. I also wanted to write the kind of book that I would have found useful when I was a kid curious about these things.

The book is so comprehensive and informative. How did you decide what to put in the book?

I had a very clear idea right from the start about what information I wanted to include. Food is a huge topic, and there’s an almost unlimited amount of information you could use, but I was trying to hit on the basics, to give kids a grounding in the big issues around food production, how it’s sold, how it affects our bodies and the planet. I also wanted to include stories that were positive and empowering, and then there are things I threw in just because I thought they were interesting or funny!


© Copyright – Image courtesy of Annick Press

Was it difficult for you to organize all that information into cohesive chapters that flow?

In addition to having a clear understanding of what information I wanted to cover from the start, I also had a vision of how I was going to structure it. I think I sat down to write a chapter outline and did it all in one go in a couple of hours. It probably helps that I’ve worked with kids’ books for years, as an editor and behind-the-scenes person, so I had a pretty good sense of how a book like this needed to be organized. Of course there was some fine-tuning along the way; I think we switched the order of two chapters at one point in editing, and there were things that were added or taken out to make it flow better.

Can you share with us how you went about conducting research for this book?

There were a few books I relied on for information about particular aspects, like the history of food, or factory farming, or food marketing. For specific examples, I found news articles and scholarly journals online. Wikipedia articles, if they’re well sourced, can be great for getting the basics on a subject, and then I’d follow the article links to primary sources. There’s a huge amount of information out there, so I felt my purpose was to bring it together and present it in a teen-friendly way.

You did an amazing job with that! The “Infobites” in the book, with their statistics, are truly staggering. While compiling information for these were you often surprised by the numbers yourself, and which ones did you find most astonishing?

DSC_0058Oh, absolutely. I had an idea, but some of the actual numbers were shocking. The amount of food wasted is one that’s unbelievable to me—about a third of all food worldwide goes to waste. I also found the numbers on food insecurity incredibly depressing: 1 in 4 kids in the US don’t have regular access to enough food, and in Canada it’s only slightly better. There’s no way those kids can have equal chances in life if they’re in school hungry, or worrying about not having enough to eat.


© Copyright – Image courtesy of Annick Press

It’s really shocking and sad that so many kids don’t have enough food, and yet we waste so much of it. Did you find it challenging to write about food science for a younger audience?

One nice thing about writing for younger readers is it forces you to really take apart things you think you know and say, “Okay, in the most basic terms, what is happening here? How does it work?” You can’t rely on the shorthand you might use with adults, where you just assume your readers understand something. I found I had a much clearer comprehension of things after trying to explain them to kids, whether it was biodiversity or the difference between simple and complex carbs.

“If we have kids graduating high school who don’t know how to cook something from scratch, and don’t know how to shop for groceries or prepare food, that’s a major failure.”


The statistics on the volume of sugar we eat on a daily basis are staggering. Do you think nutrition and healthy eating should be part of the curriculum in schools?

 Image of sugar in the Public Domain

I do think we need a big cultural shift when it comes to sugar. We evolved eating very tiny amounts of it, and up until very recently it was an expensive luxury. All the research is telling us it’s an addictive substance and it’s a big reason for kids and teens becoming pre-diabetic and developing other health problems. And yet we practically mainline it in sodas and Frappucinos, and we push so much of it on kids. It’s a hard thing to talk about without sounding like you’re head of the Temperance Union and you want to ban all fun. And I’m a hypocrite on the subject because I can barely go a day without chocolate! But we’d be better off treating sugar as more of an occasional, special thing, not an ingredient in every food we eat.

If we have kids graduating high school who don’t know how to cook something from scratch, and don’t know how to shop for groceries or prepare food, that’s a major failure. It’s one of the most important life skills you can have! I think there’s more of an awareness of that now, and some schools are teaching cooking and food literacy, starting garden projects, and such. But of course there needs to be much more.

“Don’t talk about how eating something will make you fat, or teach them to associate food with guilt and shame. Show them that eating well makes you feel good.”

What else can we do as parents to encourage healthy eating habits?81DonyBOD8L

As for what we can do as parents, one big thing is to set good examples by showing kids we enjoy healthy food, and that cooking and eating is a pleasure, not a chore. Involve them in shopping for and preparing food—even young kids can help wash veggies or get out ingredients from the fridge or whatever. Talk to them about where their food comes from. I think it’s also important to model healthy attitudes about food and body image. Don’t talk about how eating something will make you fat, or teach them to associate food with guilt and shame. Show them that eating well makes you feel good. And try to sit down and have meals together, even if you can only manage once or twice a week.

© Copyright – Image courtesy of Annick Press

Excellent advice! Do you think it’s possible for teens who grew up eating fast food, drinking soda and eating sweets to successfully change their eating habits? And what would it take to do that?

I think anyone can change his or her eating habits. And teens can change their entire fashion styles, musical tastes, and personas pretty much overnight, so they are probably the most adaptable to change!

Most people find if they get in the habit of eating healthier food, as long as it’s tasty and nutritious and they’re eating enough of it, then they enjoy eating that way and they don’t crave greasy or sugary things all the time. So it’s a matter of building those habits. Of course it helps if they have support from families, and if there’s a culture of healthy eating around them. Fast-food places need to have some truly healthier options, beyond boring salads—it’s getting better, but there’s still a long way to go. And schools and communities need to help too. It’s very hard if you’re on a school trip or at a sports meet or whatever, and there’s nothing to eat but hot dogs and donuts.

“…livestock production actually contributes more CO2 to the atmosphere than transportation!”

I so often think about that fact that the volume of unhealthy foods readily available to kids and the lack of healthy choices, are the biggest parts of the problem. What concerns you most about the future of our food supply in North America?

25275vClimate change is a big worry. The way we produce food is a huge contributor to climate change—livestock production actually contributes more CO2 to the atmosphere than transportation! And we’ve already seen how a changing climate affects our food supply—look at the droughts in California, which supplies about half of all our produce in North America.

Image of farm in California in the Public Domain

All those facts are certainly eye-opening. What do you hope readers learn most from the book?

What inspired me most while writing was how many stories there are about young people who have made a difference. Like the two Girl Guides who said, “No, we don’t think it’s right that orangutan habitats are being destroyed so we can get palm oil to make cookies,” and they actually got major companies to change their policies. Kids who stand up and say, “I don’t want animals to be treated that way to get my fast food,” or “There’s nowhere to buy fresh food in my community, and I’m going to do something about it,” are inspiring others. So I hope readers take to heart that there are things they can do, that there’s more awareness than ever before about many of these issues and they can find networks and organizations to help.

It’s amazing what kids with a passion can accomplish! Do you have any advise for someone who might want tofarm-animals-13800419412Sq write a sophisticated nonfiction book for older children like you did?

Kids and teens are smart, and they can handle more complex issues and ideas than we adults sometimes give them credit for. You don’t have to talk down to them or try too hard to sound like their buddy, because they can sense that phoniness a mile away. And nobody wants to be told what to think—your readers are the ones who get to decide how to think and what to do with the information you’ve given them.

Image of the cow in the Public Domain

No one else could have said that any better!

indexOf course, you do have to keep in mind how much information kids can take in without becoming overwhelmed, and you want to create something that’s appealing and fun to read. I was lucky to have great editors and readers who helped me find that balance. Presentation helps, too—Foodprints really benefits from having lots of colorful illustrations, photos, and graphics, which can help draw kids in to more complex or serious subjects.

Image of produce in the Public Domain

 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Paula, I am so thrilled you wrote this outstanding, comprehensive book for teens. We’ve got to do a better job as  a society educating our children about not only what they are eating but also where their food is coming from, and your book is an excellent resource for them. If only every middle and high school had a course utilizing this book, the world would be a much better, healthier place!


 Buy Foodprints: The Story of What We Eat here






Vegetables in Underwear: Impossible You Say?


Cover image courtesy of Abrams

Vegetables in Underwear

•        Targeted Audience: PreSchool, Lower Elementary (Ages 2-5)
•        Genre: Fiction Picture Book
•        Author/Illustrator: Jared Chapman
•        Publisher: Abrams/Appleseed
•        Publication Date: April 7, 2015
•        Binding: Hard Cover
•        Dimensions: 8″ X 8″
•        Printing: Full Color
•        Length: 40 Pages
•        Retail: $14.95
•        ISBN: 978-1419714641


© Copyright  – image courtesy of Abrams

Irresistible Humor for PreSchoolers

We all know that vegetables, don’t walk and talk and wear clothing – particularly undies! But what if they could do those things? Well, it would be pretty darn hilarious, wouldn’t it? In Vegetables in Underwear author Jared Chapman uses his terrific sense of humor to entertain the littlest readers. Seeing vibrantly painted eggplant, carrots, potatoes and turnips in their tidy whities (or other colors) is sure cause for giggles. Short sentences with very descriptive adjectives along with adorable illustrations give readers all they need to learn all they every wanted to know about underwear.


© Copyright  – image courtesy of Abrams

What This Book Teaches

While kids are laughing their way through Vegetables in Underwear they are encouraged to take a liking to veggies, will learn about the many different varieties and will want to eat more of them. Perhaps they’ll even want to work on potty training to get out of diapers – if they still wear them – and wear big boy or girl undies. The text is simple and bold and will help little ones start associating sounds with letters. Opposites are introduced  too (i.e serious/funny, old/new, boys/girls).

Why You Should Buy This Book


The illustrations in the book are charming and humorous, and I just love books that have pictures in the inside covers. The best way to encourage the youngest children to love reading and books is to make them laugh, and Vegetables in Underwear will do just that. Cuddling up in bed with your children and listening to them roar with laughter is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

© Copyright  – image courtesy of Abrams

About the Author

me & oscar_smallJared Chapman was born in Louisiana, grew up in Texas, went to college in Georgia, lived in Austin, and now calls the piney woods of northeast Texas his home. He has done work for Walt Disney Television Animation, Nick Jr., Nike, McSweeney’s, Hallmark, Jib Jab, Asthmatic Kitty Records, Mudpuppy, Thomas Nelson, Snoball, Sterling Publishing, and The Hollywood Reporter. He and his young brood prefer silly underwear to serious, and broccoli to celery.



The Ultimate Book About Me: Discover What Makes You, YOU!


Cover image courtesy of Barron’s Educational Books

The Ultimate Book About Me

•        Targeted Audience: Upper Elementary & Middle School (Ages 9-14)
•        Genre: Non-Fiction
•        Author: Richard Platt
•        Publisher: Barron’s Educational
•        Publication Date: September 1, 2014
•        Binding: Paperback
•        Dimensions: 7.5″ X 10″
•        Printing: Full Color
•        Length: 144 Pages
•        Retail: $16.95
•        ISBN: 978-1438005577

“Who are you? The answer is more complex –  and more interesting and more amazing – than any name.”


© Copyright – Image used with permission by Barron’s Educational Books

Who Am I and What Makes Me Unique?

DSC_0005The Ultimate Book About Me takes readers on a scientific journey to discover their true individual identities. The book was written in conjunction with the Who am I? Exhibit at the Science Museum of London, answering questions children typically ask about themselves. Author Richard Platt presents readers with fascinating facts about their bodies and brains and individuality in easy-to-understand terms, taking the mystery out of what would normally be a very complicated subject. The chapters include: 1) My Genes; 2) My Body; 3) My Brain; 4) My Face; 5) My Memory; 6) Senses; 7) My Words; 8) My Emotions; 9) Boy or Girl; 10) My Ancestors and 11) My Life.

© Copyright – Image used with permission by Barron’s Educational Books

Science All Kids Can Relate To

DSC_0004Information is broken up into manageable bits with the use of colored text boxes and photographs of children’s heads placed on top of drawings of bodies. There are questions posed and answered, quizzes and experiments too, as well as a glossary of terms. Among the countless highlights, readers will learn the role genetics play in what they look like, how genes shape their lives and what they can do to shape their own futures. They’ll understand more about how their senses, brains and memories work, what causes them to be fearful, angry or happy and what their ancestors can reveal about who they are today.

© Copyright – Image used with permission by Barron’s Educational Books

Why You Should Buy This Book

The Ultimate Book About Me is the ultimate introduction to the science of who we are as human beings. Children are so often curious about details about themselves and ask their parents questions that are not always easy to answer – until now. Richard Platt takes the subject of being human and breaks it down into understandable and intriguing text and combines that with imagery and interactive pages kids can relate to. This inique book will get kids’ brains reeling as they come to comprehend more about what makes them unique from a scientific standpoint. This book covers important material kids won’t likely learn in school. It takes the guesswork out of the many questions kids have about themselves and also answers questions they may never even have thought to ask.

DSC_0006“Nobody knows why we dream, or why dreams are so strange. One explanation is that dreaming helps us to learn and lay down memories. Processing the day’s knowledge at night triggers random thoughts and sensations. Our dozy brains stitch them together into a weird story.”

© Copyright – Image used with permission by Barron’s Educational Books

About the Author

self-portratit-portholeRichard Platt has been writing for children since 1992. One of his books, Castle Diary, was shortlisted for the Kate Maschler Award, The Times Education Supplement award, and a History Today prize. His Pirate Diary won the Kate Greenaway Medal 2002, the Silver Smarties Award 2002, and won the ‘Best Book With Facts’ prize in the Blue Peter Book Awards 2003.

© Copyright – Image courtesy of the author

Further Learning

  1. Visit the Science Museum of London website.
  2. Visit a science museum near you.
  3. Look at old family photos with your children to discover which family members they resemble.
  4. Search for more books about the five senses, memory, fears and other topics covered in the book.




Foodprints: The Story of What We Eat


Cover image courtesy of Annick Press

Foodprints: The Story of What We Eat

•        Targeted Audience: Middle & High School (Ages 12-18)
•        Genre: Non-Fiction
•        Author/: Paula Ayer
•        Publisher: Annick Press
•        Publication Date: February 10, 2014
•        Binding: Paperback
•        Dimensions: 6.5″ X 9″
•        Printing: Full Color
•        Length: 206 Pages
•        Retail: $16.95
•        ISBN: 978-1554517183

“For several hundred thousand years humans existed like this-hunting animals, fishing and foraging for whatever edible plants or fruits they could find. Then around 12,000 years ago, things started to change in a big way.”

One of the Best Non-Fiction Children’s Books I’ve Ever Read

20150115_174658_resizedI’m an avid cook and organic home gardener, so I often think about where our food comes from, just how much of it we consume and that we can just walk into a grocery story and buy it beautifully wrapped without having to get our own food like  hunters and gatherers before us. I also live in Miami and am well aware of how much our country relies upon our farmers to produce fruits and vegetables during the winter months. But nothing prepared me for just how much I’d learn reading Foodprints: The Story of What We Eat.  The book is jaw-dropping fascinating and one of the best children’s non-fiction books I’ve ever read.

© Copyright Debbie Glade – My first organic tomatoes of this season.

“The World Health Organization recommends no more than 5 teaspoons of added sugar per day…The average American consumes a whopping 22 teaspoons of sugar a day.”

 Changing the Way We Think About Food

We all take for granted the fact that we have an abundance of food here in North America, and it’s truly easy to obtain. Just walk into a grocery store or farmer’s market and fill your cart, or even order it online and get it delivered to your door. But what does it take to feed hundreds of millions of people on our continent, keeping in mind that the food must be safe, appealing and affordable? When you discover how food is grown and shipped, packaged and displayed, you’ll think twice about the fact that Americans waste 40% of what they buy.


© Copyright – image courtesy of Annick Press

On top of all this, the choices we make about what we eat are some of the most important decisions we make in our lives – not only for our own health but also for the future of planet earth. Teens discover just how much their food choices are influenced by marketing, and by the time they are done reading this book, they will want to take a fresh new look at their diets.

“Over 90% of allergic reactions are caused by only eight foods: peanuts, other nuts, milk, fish, shellfish, eggs, soy and wheat.”

A Comprehensive Look at Food

There’s so much invaluable information in Foodprints I can’t begin to present you with all the highlights, but here’s a list of some of what this book teaches:

  • DSC_0062How our food system evolved from hunter gatherers to on-line ordering
  • How mega farms and factories came to produce the bulk of our current food supply and what it takes to feed hundreds of millions of people from producing the food to shipping it and getting it on our grocery store shelves
  • How many of our foods contain corn and soy
  • How to work through confusing nutrition advice like good and bad carbs, as well as trendy superfoods such as kale, fad diets and how we digest our food
  • The role of science in the modern food system, from food-bourne illnesses, improving safety and convenience to GMOs and artificial flavors
  • How what we grow and farm effect the environment
  • Why food advertisers want teens’ attention and how they get it
  • Stories about youth who are working to shape the future of food in positive ways, such as guerilla gardening and media activism

Although Foodprints is packed with information, the text is broken up with photographs and drawings and spectacular pages called Infobites, containing charts and numbers that boggle the mind.

© Copyright – image courtesy of Annick Press

Why Every Teen in North America Should Read This Book

81DonyBOD8LA tremendous amount of research and work went into creating this book. It is written in a way that kids will understand and find fascinating. The bottom line is that we mustn’t take for granted the sources where our fruits and veggies are grown, meats are raised and the convenient ways we obtain them. The challenges and issues surrounding our food are not all clear cut. For example, genetically modified foods are often criticized, yet without them, we may not be able to produce food in the quantities needed to feed the world.  Kids need to see the big picture so they can draw their own conclusions about what is best. Eating habits are generally lifelong, so if we teach our children to make healthier choices while they are young, they will live longer, more productive lives. Just go to any grocery store and notice the volume of overweight and obese shoppers. Then glance at their carts to see the many high calorie, low-nutrition foods they are feeding their families. Just reading the statistics in Foodprints is enough to motivate our youth to get on board.

© Copyright – image courtesy of Annick Press

IMG000078_400x400About the Author

Paula Ayer has worked as an editor, translator, and art director, and has written for magazines and websites. She lives in Vancouver, BC, where she usually eats three meals a day.

Along with this book, I strongly recommend you order the outstanding workshop curriculum-based Media Smart Youth Program from The National Institutes of Health:





Smart Kids Get Fit with Media Smart Youth from the National Institutes of Health


With more than one in every three children and adolescents overweight or obese in the United States, it’s just as important to educate our youth about health, nutrition and fitness as it is to teach them reading, writing and arithmetic.

I recently attended the Florida After School Alliance Annual Conference in Orlando where I sat in on a workshop, conducted by Katie Rush from the  Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health. She was promoting Media-Smart Youth: Eat, Think, and Be Active!®, a free interactive workshop program for middle school students created to educate them about the role media plays in influencing their food and exercise choices. It also teaches them about nutrition, healthy eating and physical activity in fun and creative ways. During the workshop, I was overwhelmed by the successful stories from after care teachers who have implemented the program. After reading what Katie has to say about Media-Smart Youth in this interview, you too will be just as impressed by this program as I am. You’ll want to encourage your child’s school or after care program to get on board. Or perhaps you’ll decide to facilitate the program yourself.

Photo of Katie Rush at the Florida After School Alliance Conference 2014

When was Media Smart-Youth first developed?

The National Institutes of Health released the first edition of Media-Smart Youth in 2005 after a development process with extensive review and testing.

Is the program based upon any official guidelines?

Yes—the program aligns with federal guidelines on nutrition and physical activity. It’s also undergone an in-depth evaluation, which showed that the program helps increase students’ knowledge and intention to make healthy choices.

How is this program funded?Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 8.46.30 PM

Like all NIH programs, Media-Smart Youth is supported by public funding. That’s how we’re able to make it available to folks at no charge. People may download free copies on our website or order hard copies that we’ll mail for free.

© Copyright – Image of Media Smart Youth Flyer courtesy of NIH

It’s truly remarkable that Media Smart-Youth and all the materials are completely free, including the shipping. Other than the cost of food for preparing some of the lessons are there other expenses for administering Media Smart-Youth?

The cost of running a Media-Smart Youth program can range depending on the resources an organization has at its disposal. Aside from healthy snacks, the biggest program expenses might be the cost of renting space to hold the lessons and of paying a facilitator to lead them. But we’ve found that most organizations already have access to free space, as well as help from staff or volunteers.

Many of the program supplies—like paper and markers, cups and paper plates—are readily available to facilitators. Other equipment, like a camera or DVD player, can be useful but aren’t required. Finally, some groups spend money on transportation for field trips. Those are optional, and plenty of sites have led successful programs without taking field trips.

Watch the Media-Smart Youth Eat it Up! video

I’m sure there are ways for schools to get creative and save on food costs.

We always encourage sites to explore community partnerships if they’re concerned about program expenses. Local grocery stores or farms are sometimes willing to donate food for healthy snacks. Office supply stores or other local businesses can sometimes help cover the costs of supplies and printing. Schools, churches, local health organizations, and other nonprofits are often willing to provide space or other resources. And local media partners—such as staff from a nearby news outlet, or even older students in a high school AV club—may be able to assist with some of the youth’s media projects.

Are there statistics on how many schools and students have participated in Media Smart-Youth since it started?

We try to make it as easy as possible for people to access our materials, so we don’t require any sort of registration or reporting from program sites. That makes it difficult to count the number of sites that have run Media-Smart Youth programs over the years, and the number of youth they’ve served.

But we do know that there are a range of different organizations that have found success with the Media-Smart Youth program, from YMCAs and Girl Scout troops, to 21st Century Community Learning Centers and others. We have some great case studies on our website that highlight the experiences of different types of organizations around the country.


© Copyright – Image of Workshop Curriculum Guide that comes with the program free of charge

Can you give us an example of one of the ten lessons included in the program?

Sure! Lesson 7 – The Power of Advertising is organized in the same way as all of the program lessons. Here’s a brief rundown of the activities:

  • Activity A: “What is Advertising?”

Youth participate in an “advertising relay race” to quickly identify many of the ways they’re exposed to ads. Then the facilitator leads them in a discussion about more subtle forms of advertising, like logos or product placement. There’s an optional DVD clip facilitators may use to underscore some of the main ideas.

  • Snack break: The snack break for this lesson is a whole-wheat English muffin or rice cake, topped with fat-free/low-fat cottage cheese or Greek yogurt and fruit.
  • Activity B: “Thinking About Body Image”

Youth create collages of images of models, celebrities, and athletes found in popular magazines. The facilitator uses those collages to jumpstart a discussion about body image and the media, and how images we see in ads and on TV aren’t very realistic.

  • Action Break: In this action break, youth try out various yoga poses, as demonstrated in one of the Media-Smart Youth DVD clips or, if no DVD player is available, by their facilitator. (This is just one action break of many options in our curriculum. We encourage sites to adapt things however works best for them. So, taking a break to play soccer outside could work just as well.)
  • Activity C: “Omission Mission”

In each lesson, youth have the opportunity to create a media product of their own. For this mini-production, youth work in teams to develop a radio jingle for a made-up product, Giddyup Granola Bars. They’re given a set of facts to include and then choose one fact to leave out. Then the teams perform their jingles for the full group, and the other youth have to guess which fact was left out. This activity helps the youth understand how advertisers are very selective in the information they choose to include in ads—and in what they leave out (whether it’s cost, nutritional content, or other information).

  • Wrap-up: In the last two minutes, the facilitator asks the youth to say something fun or interesting they learned in the lesson. Then the youth leave with two handouts: one with the recipe for that day’s snack, and one with “Tips for Media-Smart Parents” so parents and caregivers can help extend the learning at home.

That is an excellent lesson and it really sounds like fun too. What materials are required for this program, and if teachers wish to facilitate Media Smart-Youth in an after care or community setting, is there some form of training to help them get started?

DSC_0009For sites that may have multiple staff or volunteers leading lessons, we offer a free train-the-trainer guide, with instructions for a half-day training that people can lead on-site in their own communities.

We also offer webinars from time to time to provide prospective facilitators with an overview of the program’s aims and tips for implementation. Beyond that, we offer free technical assistance to facilitators via email or phone (, 1-800-370-2943).

But the curriculum guide itself is also chock-full of great suggestions and information that facilitators should consider before getting started. Really, everything they need to know is right there.

© Copyright – image of Media-Smart Youth Training Guide

“Youth in this country spend, on average, more than 7½ hours a day using entertainment media. And they’re exposed to up to 30,000 ads a year, on TV alone, many for less healthy foods.”

How much of a role does media play in encouraging children to make poor food choices and setting the stage for a sedentary lifestyle?

Media is certainly influential, and maybe even more so today, with the prevalence of social media and broader access to smartphones. But it would be difficult to measure the precise level of influence that media has on any given child. What we do know is that youth use media a great deal, and during that time, they’re exposed to a ton of marketing messages. Youth in this country spend, on average, more than 7½ hours a day using entertainment media. And they’re exposed to up to 30,000 ads a year, on TV alone, many for less healthy foods.

Youth need at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. That’s why we encourage families to reduce screen time and get moving.

That said, our message in Media-Smart Youth isn’t that media is bad; it’s just pervasive, and we want kids to develop the skills to think critically about what they’re exposed to so they can make healthy decisions for themselves.

Watch the Media-Smart Youth Video What Are Media?

Those statistics are really eye-opening. Can you give us an example or two of positive outcomes that have been the result of this program?

I’d be happy to! That’s one of the highlights of my job—hearing success stories from sites and sharing their successes with others. Here are just a couple:

At the YWCA in El Paso, youth in a Media-Smart Youth program got to learn about media first-hand by taking a field trip to the local Telemundo affiliate and talking with the news crew. The youth ended up being interviewed about their Media-Smart Youth program on the station’s nightly news. When they returned home at the end of the day, all their family members had tuned in to watch—the kids felt like hometown heroes.

Here’s another story I love: at Alkebu-lan Village, in Detroit, the youth snacked on candy and nachos after school every day, until trying out some new snack recipes in Media-Smart Youth that taught them that snacks can be tasty and healthy. After the program, the youth approached the owner of the local convenience store and asked him to offer healthier options. Because of that, he changed his inventory.

There are so many good stories—I love hearing about the creative things the kids come up with, with their capstone projects for example, and how they take the lessons to heart.

Watch this video highlighting different media projects created by participants

Getting a convenience store to add some healthier food choices is really monumental! I understand that the program was upgraded in 2013 and part of that upgrade included Tips for Media-Smart Parents. From the feedback you’ve received, are parents happy to get involved?

Yes, I think the parents are pleased to see their kids enjoying the program. And I think the facilitators are grateful whenever parents can lend a hand in reinforcing the lessons at home—that’s so important.

How does it feel to be part of something so positive that is changing so many lives for the better?

It feels terrific. But really, I have the easy job—it’s the facilitators in the local communities who should get the credit for all they’re doing. Their hard work goes a long way toward helping kids live healthier lives. My hat’s off to them!

Thank you so much for your time and for all this phenomenal information, Katie. You have inspired our readers implement this program for their children!

Summary of the Media-Smart Youth Program071-media-smart-youth-logo

  • This is a workshop curriculum for children ages 11-13 focusing on media awareness, nutrition and physical activity.
  • All learning materials are free (including shipping) and available for order, including the Curriculum Packet (with the Facilitator’s Guide, DVD, and poster) and Train-the-Trainer Packet.
  • Materials can also be downloaded on line for free on the website.
  • The program has proven to be very successful in many venues across America and case studies are available.
  • Media Smart Youth was updated in 2013.
  • Learn how to get started here.

© Copyright – Media Smart Youth Logo courtesy of NIH

For more information or to order free copies of the Media-Smart Youth after-school program materials, contact NICHD Information Resource Center: