"Vending Machine" documentary looks to expose childrens' junk food habits in public schools

Monday, October 10, 2005 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: vending machines, junk food, public schools

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Jennifer Mattox hopes to someday enjoy the same kind of attention as Morgan Spurlock, director and producer of the Oscar-nominated 2004 fast-food documentary "Supersize Me." In fact, Spurlock's film inspired Mattox not only to film her own feature-length documentary, but also to launch an entire independent film company. In April of this year, Mattox unveiled Faerie Films, a film company that operates under the credo: "Movies that move your spirit." With Spurlock's eye-opening success in mind, Mattox will soon begin filming her first documentary, "Vending Machine."

"I was very inspired when I saw the movie 'Supersize Me'," says Mattox. "There was a portion of the movie that talks about cafeterias in schools, and prior to that I had thought about how terrible it was that there's so much junk food in kids' schools. Then I saw [Supersize Me], and I thought that this is kind of an opportunity to really expose what's going on with children in their school environment. That's how the impetus for Faerie Films came about."

Mattox says "Vending Machine" will focus on the current state of health and well being among today's children, who are fast becoming obese and consequently diseased in epidemic numbers. She jokes that today's kids will be nicknamed Generation "O," for "obese," but she's the first to admit that kids subsisting on junk foods is far from a laughing matter.

The state of food in schools and at home is unacceptable and dangerous; more importantly, it is helping to fuel the childhood obesity problem in this country, according to Mattox. The problem is partly a food supply packed full of fast foods and processed junk, and partly the continuous onslaught of celebrity advertising for unhealthy food choices both inside and outside of school. After all, how are kids supposed to resist the urge to eat and drink what they think Britney Spears and Michael Jordan are eating and drinking?

But celebrities and the toxic food supply can't be blamed entirely, since healthy foods are readily available to the public. Mattox says parents have to start paying attention to what they allow their kids to eat before their health can improve. Many parents, she says, are so used to saying, "Yes" to everything their kids ask for that they've seemingly forgotten how to say, "No," especially in a society in which food is used as a reward.

But some parents aren't just guilty of not paying close attention to their kids' health; it's a fairly common occurrence to see parents directly contribute to their children's poor health. For instance, many parents stop to buy coffee in the mornings with their kids on the way to school. The Starbucks temptation is too great for kids to resist, especially if it's facilitated by parents. And the consequences of a morning cup of coffee on learning and physical health are terrible, says Mattox. "Parents allow kids to walk into school with their Starbucks," she says. "They're starting their day off with 56 grams of sugar in their body, and what it's doing to their minds and their bodies is just a crime." It's a crime, indeed never mind all the detrimental effects of caffeine on a teenager's body.

But Starbucks and fast food aren't the only suspects. Mattox also blames childhood obesity on a lack of exercise at school, citing physical education requirement cutbacks. "There aren't any physical fitness goals," says Mattox. "I think there's only one day a week (of PE) that's required, and I think it's only for 20 minutes." Today's kids are getting fatter and unhealthier with every passing day as they fill their bodies with junk and don't exercise.

Mattox aims to bring these startling issues to light. To make parents visually and emotionally aware of what their kids are doing to their bodies with food, Mattox and her film crew will choose five or six students from around the country and follow each for 24 hours, tracking every food choice the child makes at school, at home or wherever they go. One goal is to open parents' eyes to the terrible choices their kids may be making, possibly modeled after the parents' own behaviors. Another goal is to open kids' eyes by showing what is happening to their bodies, both physiologically and psychologically, as they ingest unhealthy foods.

Letting parents see what their kids' food is doing to their bodies is only part of the documentary's aim. "It looks at how corporate advertising influences our children's food choices in and outside of school," Mattox says. "What we do is we take a virtual tour of what's going on in the food distribution system." From slaughterhouse to production to children's mouths, Mattox wants to expose it all in "Supersize Me" fashion.

Although today Mattox is a healthy consumer and well educated on nutrition, she wasn't always so informed. In fact, she had a college experience like many other typical Americans one involving lots of pizza, burgers and French fries. "I was so into eating fast foods all the time," Mattox says. "And I ate lots and lots of meat. They called me the Prime-Rib Queen. That was my nickname."

Because she'd suffered poor health since childhood and had a weak immune system, Mattox decided to give up meat and junk food. Today's she's a vegetarian practically a vegan and she's healthier than ever. "I started reading a lot about nutrition and holistic remedies and things I could to do help myself without going to a doctor," says Mattox. As for giving up meat, she says, "I feel like I have a lot more energy and I have clearer thinking. There have been a lot of benefits health-wise. I don't get sick anymore." In fact, she recently gave up her non-emergency health insurance because she doesn't need it.

Now, Mattox says it's time to let parents and kids in on how unhealthy children are today. "Kids are our future, and as far as I'm concerned, we've lived half our lives and now we need to support our kids so they have a better future."

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