Show & Tell Tactics That Stick In Kids’ Brains

fat-blob-coffee-cup.jpgThis rubbery, anatomically correct representation of one pound of fat (about the size of a coffee mug) works wonders to toss around the room with kids to literally feel the weight in our ‘Sim City’ teaching tactics to elicit the almighty ‘ewwww,’ in Shaping Youth’s Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition.

Buying this fat blob was my best ‘icebreaker’ ever, because kids escalate to “whoa” after we load up the pockets of aprons with a few more blobs, then have them do jumping jacks to ‘feel the difference.’ (canned goods from the pantry work at home)

The fatty tissue replica reminds “every extra pound of fat requires an additional mile of blood vessels” and the little red dots within it represent same…yech. (five pounds shown here)

This week’s Washington Post series on “Young Lives at Risk” has a mind-boggling organ by organ flash animation illustration How Obesity Harms A Child’s Body that shows the ‘slow kill’ and lasting effects of death by junk food…‘Ewww’ indeed…It’s a keeper.

I plan to add this unforgettable ditty to my interactive war-chest, in the fight for the hearts and minds of a generation that learn more from games, visual media and digital learning than an entire year of health sciences lectures and food pyramids.

Here are a few other visual cues that we’ve found particularly effective in making a point in our Dare to Compare, Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition. Try ’em out at home!

p1020145.jpgCoagulated grease: Drain off the fat from the same amount of ground turkey vs. beef into a clear cup and let it harden to show healthier picks by comparison (this is what we call the ‘switch pitch’ substituting more favorable options to build a ‘healthier taco’)

Body as a car with neon-colored ‘fuel’: Make the visual leap between sports drinks and their shockingly neon color additives with automobiles poisons and cleaners; e.g. Blue Powerade/Windex Green Gatorade/antifreeze to drive the point home: KNOW what you’re “putting in your system.”

playdough-extruder.jpgPlaydough extrusion: Simulate hardened & clogged arteries by squeezing out ‘fresh’ playdough versus the sloooooooooooow push of extruding rock-hard dough through the valve…

Playdough is also fabulous to simulate portion-size, body functions, blending/mixing of nutrients you name it. Cheap, visual, easy, and fun. (believe it or not, high schoolers had some of the most fun with this!)

Soda as an acid: Show how Coke & Pepsi can be used to clean car grease stains from driveways with their acidity. Now think about your stomach.

banana-monkey-auto.gifEat like an ape: Imagine, a scientifically-based reality show that could bring back the dietary common sense we once had 6 million years ago, AND reverse high blood pressure in kids’ bodies from modern day pre-processed junk!?

BBC News had an amazing video stunt filmed with humans in cages at the zoo and a ‘please don’t feed the humans’ sign, showing a steady diet of ‘ape food’ reduced cholesterol and blood pressure in just 12 days. We ‘stole the idea’ and used it with kids to counter-market junk food and it’s a fun, effective way to get them to think in sound-bites. (full ape food article I wrote here)

Video: Can eating like an ape save your health?

Compared to an apple, a banana has four times the protein, twice the carbohydrate, three times the phosphorus, five times the vitamin A and iron, and twice the other vitamins and minerals…

Evidently, the banana/blood pressure link (extremely high in potassium yet low in salt) has been sanctioned by the USDA as an official claim to reduce the risk of blood pressure and stroke…(Sheesh, Dad, no wonder you’re still a tennis champ at 84 years old, the way you eat peanuts and bananas)

oj-set-up.jpgSwitch Pitch: Build A Beverage When kids concoct their own ‘soda’ out of organic juice, bubbly water and some fresh squeezes of lemon, lime, and such, they ‘brand’ it as theirs…

Each of our teams did taste-tests, along with ‘name generation’ and ‘why to buys’ to learn about label lingo and media literacy.

Likewise, we had them go in the other direction too, to ‘deconstruct’ an empty calorie pouch drink to see that it was simply high fructose corn syrup and water in a fancy foil wrapper.

made-to-stick2.jpgIt ‘stuck.’ Big hit.

Try it with organic apple spritzers, fresh lemonade, oh, and ‘grape’ was a fave too…When Shaping Youth gets funding firm to roll out all of our freebie digital downloads (‘m-powerment’ reality show games) you’ll have open source ‘train the trainer’ video clips and short sheets that ANY youth group can use to make this stuff ‘stick.’

Our ‘gross out game’ will be the first one ready, as it’s been tested the most for outcomes and measures…but we have plenty of ‘food dissections’ that go right along with that Washington Post visual of the human dissection showing junk food at work. Ewwww…’ Indeed. Meanwhile…

Here are a few favorites from this week’s Washington Post series:

Video insights: From the CEO & President of RWJF Foundation Risa Lavizzo-Mourey to a P.E. teacher, a pediatrician, a mother-daughter pair, and a 12-year old

How Obesity Harms A Child’s Body: A compelling interactive illustration organ by organ that shows the ‘slow kill’ and lasting effects of a compromised lifestyle

What’s Your Nutrition IQ: This gives you a handle on portion distortion and whether you’re contributing to the problem!

Buy Better Foods Interactive: Fun little training tool proving not all products are created equal…read the labels!

Facts You Should Know Some of these were real shockers, including:

Only 2% of U.S. children eat a healthy diet as defined by the USDA

We consume 20% more calories than a generation ago; mostly from fats and oils (up 63%), grains (up 43%), & sugar (up 19%) (I thought the sugar increase would be higher than grains!)

Soft-drink consumption has increased 300% in 20 years
Children and teens consumed 110 to 165 more calories than they burned each day over a 10-year period, adding up to 58 pounds of extra weight, according to a Harvard University study.

A 2006 study tracking 2,000 low-income children in 20 cities found that a third were overweight or obese before age 4. Most at risk: Hispanics. (this one did NOT surprise me, as you can see by our counter-marketing intervention sessions here)

An Overview of Childhood Obesity Chart

The Search for Solutions

Misjudging Nutritional Expectations: Low Sugar Isn’t the Obvious Choice

Restaurant Food: A-Z Snapshot from Major Food Chains

Obesity Threatens A Generation

Visual Credits: Your Monkey Mind Connection A stumbled upon site of fascination that talks about how bananas provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout; it’s the top fruit of the world’s leading athletes, comprised of three natural sugars – sucrose, fructose and glucose combined with fiber; gives an instant, sustained and substantial boost of energy/overcome or prevent a substantial number of illnesses and conditions, etc. Check it out!

Also, don’t miss Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive & Others Die by Chip & Dan Heath (excellent book, met the author via Guidewire Group Leadership Forum awhile back via his ties at Stanford Social Innovation Review. His strong marketing theories and acumen apply equally well to our ‘counter-marketing!’ 😉 –AJ



  1. WOW. Amy, you are amazing. Seriously. That pound of blob just reminded my that i need to go on a diet asap. I have been eating HORRIBLY lately (goes with working w 24 gentlemen and their digestive preferences for lunch break).

    I bet kids loved it – fat blob = both gross and fascinatingly awesome.

    WELL DONE! 😀 Hope your life is grand. And chat soon, yeah?

  2. I remember when my mom did weight watchers years ago they made the following analogy to give encouragement when someone lost “only a pound.” They said to imagine that 1 lb weight loss as a pound of butter coming off of your body. The fat blob makes me think of the same thing.

  3. heehee…yah, it’s pretty gross…I’m big on visuals, so about to post some ‘correlations’ on portion distortion so kids can also ‘take home’ the lesson of what a ‘serving size’ really IS as opposed to our ‘bigger-is-better’ mentality of wretched excess in the USA. You should see the funny visual…hope it doesn’t offend too many, but hey…it makes a great ‘forward to a friend’ moment. 😉

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