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Diet, lifestyle and advertising – discussing the film

1. What did Morgan eat in the film?

The film draws attention to obesity problems in the United States. Morgan consumed an unbalanced diet and way too many calories – at least three super size meals a day. What effects did eating like this have on his health and quality of life?

Points to discuss:

  • Are we what we eat?
  • What does the phrase "habit is second nature" mean?
  • Why do people come in different sizes?
  • What causes obesity?
  • Can a person with a healthy lifestyle still be overweight? (eating disorders, illness, heredity, insufficient exercise, diet etc)
  • What should people be more concerned about, their own size or their eating habits?
  • What goes into a healthy lifestyle?
  • How does food culture differ in Finland and the United States.
  • What role does food play in Finnish culture and in satisfying needs? Family time, special occasions, emotions, leisure, loneliness, substitution, reward. What else?

Things to do and think about:

  • Evaluate Morgan's diet; think about the quantity and quality of the food he ate.
  • List the effects of the diet on Morgan and think about what caused them.
  • Interview the person in charge of meals at your school about the healthiness of school food in Finland.
  • Compare school food in the United States according to the picture given in the film and school food in Finland.

You can practice combining healthy foods with the help of an interactive programme called Healthy Meal. You can use it to put together a nutritious lunch for the characters in the programme. The programme is based on Finnish nutrition recommendations in plate form and is on the National Board of Education's website (in Finnish). > oppimateriaalit > terveellinenateria/

Food diary

Keep track of what you eat in a food diary for one week. Consider the following:

  • What do you eat? What influences the choices you make?
  • When do you eat? Do you eat meals at home or do you "graze"?
  • Where do you eat? At school, at home, at friends, in town, on the street, at a kiosk?
  • Why do you eat? What needs do you satisfy?

If you like you can also use an online food diary programme. On its website the Finnish Heart Association tells how to eat healthy amounts of food using a plate model, a food diary and lighter foods (in Finnish). The address is > kaikki_sydamesta > ravinto > fi_FI > ruokamaara

Corame Oy also has a food diary on its site (in Finnish): > laihdutusklinikka > ruokapäiväkirja.


2. Image, craving or hunger – food advertising

Advertising messages and the images they create influence what people perceive as desirable and get us to buy and consume. In addition to providing information this is the main task of advertising. Advertising agencies strive to influence children's and young people's wants and cravings. Adults also serve as a channel for advertising that influences what children eat. Adults as well as children should understand who is behind advertising, what advertising says and leaves out, and what purpose it is intended to achieve.

Further information on advertising and influencing people to help teachers with this task is available on the Consumer Agency's website (in Finnish) at > opettajalle > tietoa mainonnasta.

Points to discuss:

  • Find out what product placement means and discuss its significance in creating behaviour models and images.
  • Use the transparency and consider all the places you come into contact with advertising and how it affects our lives.
  • What examples of advertising and advertising methods did the film contain? (TV, street, press)
  • What other kinds of advertising are there? (flyers, coupons, bright neon signs, radio, free papers, Internet etc)
  • Discuss why websites for cereals and other products that appeal to children and young people contain games and other entertainment.
  • Packages often contain collector items for children and games and other entertainment for adults. What is their purpose?
  • What influence does advertising have on eating habits and lifestyle?
  • Why is advertising regulated?

Things to study:

  • Consider all the places you come into contact with advertising. Transparency: Where I come into contact with advertising.
  • Study different ads and consider who made them.
  • Who paid for them? What purpose are they intended to achieve? What group of people are they aimed at? What methods do they use?
  • Think about people's life cycle and what things are important in different stages of life. Transparency: Life Cycle.
  • Consider why different types of advertising influence people of different ages in different ways.
  • In teams pick out an interesting food ad and use it to prepare your own anti-ad or commercial. Present the same product to people of different ages – but with a negative slant.

Studying target groups

Think up an imaginary family with members of different ages and make paper dolls, put together a collage, write a play or a story or choose some other interesting way to present them.

a) Place a life cycle chart on the wall of your classroom and put family members where they belong on the chart.

b) Show what things interest each family member on the life cycle chart, using newspaper clippings and drawings, for example.

c) Look for different types of ads and consider what group they target. Why?

d) Plan advertising aimed at people in different stages of life for the same product or restaurant service. Consider the target group and the marketing channel and method.

Put yourself in a product designer's shoes

Plan a food package for tomorrow's world – decide how the future will look.

  • smart package
  • new product
  • sustainable packaging
  • what else?


3. Fast food culture

Western fast food culture has been growing at a dizzying pace for decades. Fast food has become a huge business as people's lives have become busier and more automated. This has frequently been blamed for increasing obesity and declining physical fitness among the population. In the film the researchers interviewed by Morgan Spurlock suggest that obesity is already close to being the biggest cause of illness and premature death in the United States. They stress that eating habits learned in childhood and youth are difficult to change in adulthood.

Points to discuss: (Transparency: Fast Food Culture)

  • What advantages and disadvantages does fast food culture have?
  • health perspective
  • economic perspective
  • safety perspectives (hygiene, additives, genetically modified foods)
  • image created by packaging and the information it provides
  • environmental impact of fast food: waste, production method
  • consider the significance of fast food restaurants as employers of young people

Take a position:

  • What things in modern life promote fast food culture?
  • Are the legal suits that have been brought against McDonald's and other supranational chains justified? Give reasons to support your position.

Hold a debate on food advertising:

Form three groups.

Each group should take a different position on food advertising.

Group 1 – allow all advertising

Group 2 – regulate advertising

Group 3 – ban all advertising

Support your arguments. Reserve 15-20 minutes for the task.


4. Food and nutrition – everyday choices

A single food choice does not make a diet healthy or unhealthy. What matters is the overall picture. A consumer's experiences, expectations, knowledge and attitudes influence what is perceived as desirable and what choices are made in different situations. Sweets, pastries and beverages are typical choices between meals. Snacks account for a large part of many people's calorie intake. In order to avoid obesity, the amount of energy people consume should correspond to the amount of energy they use in physical activities. In evaluating a person's diet, look first at the number of snacks and how many calories they contain.

Points to discuss:

  • Are certain kinds of food junk food? Is there such a thing?
  • What factors in a person's diet promote health?
  • What factors cause people to make choices that are bad for their health?
  • Why is it a good idea for families to eat together on weekdays as well as weekends?

Promoting well-being:

a) Plan a well-being week and then follow through:

  • What will you eat?
  • When will you eat?
  • With whom will you eat?
  • What other healthy things can you do during the week?

b) Plan a good snack

  • What does it contain?
  • What influences the ingredients you choose?
  • Give reasons and consider what things produce a sense of well-being and pleasant experiences.