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Fifth-graders study, analyze, create ads.

JANESE HEAVIN, Columbia Daily Tribune

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

West Boulevard Elementary students might not be ready to give up cheeseburgers and pizza, but they have wised up to tricky media messages.

Jonette Fordís fifth-grade class has spent the past 12 weeks analyzing, evaluating and creating commercials in an effort to become more critical of the food messages they watch on television or see in magazines.

The course ended last week at Ragtag Cinema with a showing of a 10-minute, student-produced healthy-eating video designed to make fruits and vegetables look as appealing as their salty and sugary counterparts. Students wrote and performed scripts, and Columbia Access Television helped film and edit the segments.

By learning how and why advertisements are created, the class aimed to make students more critical of the messages they receive.

"If you see a thin role model and that person is being shown eating a fast-food meal, that is exactly what we teach the kids about, how things are scripted," said Melinda Hemmelgarn, a registered dietitian who worked with the class.

Fifth-grader Justin Smith said he learned that the NBA player eating at a fast-food chain "wouldnít really do that."

The media literacy project was a component of an 18-month healthy-eating plan at West Boulevard funded by a $50,000 grant awarded to the PedNet Coalition last year.

The course highlighted some of the tricks used to make food look more enticing. For example, to make them look bigger, hamburger patties shown in commercials arenít fully cooked. "When you actually get it, it looks kinda bad, kinda nasty," student Jennifer Kennedy said.

Vapor rub is used to create a steam-like effect rising from behind the meal, Justin added. And Antonio Primer said he knows now that sugary sports drinks arenít the same as fruit juices and that unhealthy snacks are stacked on lower grocery shelves so children can reach them.

But even though theyíve become more marketing savvy, students said they still plan to eat fast foods and unhealthy snacks.

"I canít help it," Jennifer said. "I get cravings."

The fifth-graders admitted that ads fuel those cravings. The students could think of plenty of fast-food and soft drink commercials, laughing at funny story lines and reciting memorable slogans. But they couldnít think of any ads that promoted vegetables or fruits. The only healthy example they could think of was the "Got Milk" campaign that puts milk mustaches on famous people. "But you barely ever see that," Justin said.

Thatís because unhealthy options have recognizable brand names that are often associated with having fun, Hemmelgarn said. Produce doesnít necessarily have a brand and is more difficult to market.

"Kids choose their products because theyíre fun an


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