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diet wars



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Pre-Viewing Lesson Plan
  • Examining Medical Terms
  • Worksheet: Evaluation of Medical Terms
  • Worksheet: Glossary of Medical Terms

  • Viewing Lesson Plan
  • True and False Viewing Guide
  • Worksheet: Student Viewing Guide #1: True and False
  • Answer Key: Student Viewing Guide #1: True and False
  • Worksheet: Analyzing Factors that Affect Health: Viewing Guide #2

  • Post-Viewing Lesson Plan
  • Learning About My Eating Habits
  • Post-Viewing Sheet #1: What Is a Serving
  • Post-Viewing Sheet #2
  • Post-Viewing Sheet #3: The USDA Food Pyramid
  • Post-Viewing Sheet #4: Student Writing Assignment
  • A History of Changing Foods
  • Worksheet: Food in America

  • Extending the Lesson

    Additional Resources

    Printable .pdf of Entire Guide
    (Adobe Acrobat required)

    » About the film:

    Americans spend $40 billion a year on books, products, and programs designed to do one thing: help us lose weight. From Atkins to Ornish and Weight Watchers to the South Beach Diet, today's dieters have a dizzying array of weight loss programs from which to choose -- yet the underlying principles of these diets are often contradictory. Is low fat better than low carb? Is Atkins the answer? And has the USDA food pyramid done more harm than good? FRONTLINE examines the great diet debate.

    » A Note to Teachers

    For classes in Science, Health, Social Studies, Language Arts and Current Events; grade level 9th-12th

    According to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, "We're just too darn fat, ladies and gentlemen, and we're going to do something about it." Americans are getting fatter and are looking for quick ways to lose weight. However, there are no easy answers and many conflicting diet theories. For example, two popular diets offer very different approaches. The Atkins diet allows fats but few carbohydrates, while the Ornish diet allows carbohydrate but almost no fats.

    Despite the numerous popular diets, schools still look to the USDA food pyramid as a model for proper diets. In 1992, the USDA revised the food pyramid, which limited the amount of fat and emphasized carbohydrates as the basis of a health diet; yet Americans continue to gain weight. "Diet Wars" provides provocative coverage of what one expert calls "one of the biggest public health failures in history." It creates a frightening picture of health issues in America today in which:

    • Two-thirds of American women and half of American men want to lose weight
    • Obesity now rivals smoking as a major cause of death
    • More than half of Americans are overweight
    • 30 percent of Americans are clinically obese
    • Greater numbers of children are suffering from type 2 diabetes -- which used to be called "adult-onset" diabetes -- a disease associated with diet and lifestyle
    • $40 billion per year is being spent, with very poor results, on the diet industry
    • 90 percent of dieters gain back everything they have lost within a year

    This program encourages students to:

    • Learn about health issues facing Americans today
    • Examine the USDA food pyramid and the impact that it may have had on weight gain
    • Question their own diet habits
    • Explore the impact of body image on young people

    » Lesson Plans:

    Pre-Viewing Lesson Plan:
    Examining Medical Terms
    Students will take a pre-test to determine their understanding of medical terms and key ideas in the documentary and compare their definitions to those in a glossary


    Viewing Lesson Plan:
    True and False Viewing Guide
    While viewing, students will correct and expand on their pre-viewing test of health issues.

    Analyzing Factors that Affect Health
    As the students watch the documentary, they will identify positive and negative influences on health.


    Post-Viewing Lesson Plan:
    Learning About My Eating Habits
    Students will learn about and evaluate their own food consumption. They will also examine their school lunch program.

    Food in America
    Students will examine the diets of early Americans, compare and contrast various diets in the U.S. and explore the impact that immigrants and technology have had on American diets.


    Extending the Lesson:
    What Is My Body Mass Index?
    Students can calculate their body mass and read about why this is a good measure of their weight and health.

    The Creation of the Federal Food and Drug Administration
    Students can examine how and why the Food and Drug Administration was created.

    Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes
    Students can read this novel about how two high school students deal with "terminal uglies" by forming a bond that allows them to finally stand up for themselves.

    » Purchasing the Video

    "Diet Wars" can be purchased from ShopPBS for Teachers. Note: The film is also being streamed in full on the "Diet Wars" Web site.

    » Credits

    This teacher's guide was developed by Simone Bloom Nathan of Media Education Consultants. It was written by Pat Grimmer, chair of the Social Studies Department at Carbondale Community High School in Carbondale, Ill. Ellen Greenblatt of University High School, San Francisco was an adviser.

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