Huge Tackles the Biggest Issues for Tweens and Teens

Posted by Amy Henry on Tue, Jun 29, 2010 @ 05:04 PM

Last night, ABC Family debuted Huge, the latest teen tale from the producers/creators of Gossip Girl and from the writers behind My So Called Life. Defying an important convention of the teen genre, the show doesn’t feature prom queens and rich girls – it features teens who are sent to “fat camp” by parents who fear for their kids’ health (and if the characters’ confessions are to be believed, are ashamed of their unsuccessful children).Huge

But will tweens and teens make Huge a hit the size of its name? It’s a little too soon to tell. While Huge might feature an unexpected cast, it does deal with the hierarchies that inevitably develop when teens congregate. In this case, the skinniest girl is crowned queen bee in the first few minutes of the series. The show promises love triangles, power struggles and underdogs who get their shot. And, with Nikki Blonski of Hairspray fame playing the central role of Willamina (“Will”), we might see some singing.

And whether or not the show stands out among summer shows, it’s sure to spark debate and hopefully, dialogue, about its central theme. We think body issues and weight are in the Zeitgeist more than they have been in a while. For as long as this latest cohort of kids has been in school, we’ve been encouraging them to be healthier. But while we agree that childhood obesity is one of the most pressing public health issues in a decade, we also wonder if we haven’t inadvertently exacerbated the anxiety that tweens and teens already feel about their appearance.

Tweens’ and teens’ concern – or rather, obsession – with their body might not be news,  but the latest numbers from YouthBeat show just how hard it is to embrace Huge’s  mantra: love thy body. While 51% of elementary school kids agree that they are “happy with the way they look,” this number drops to 30% for middle schoolers and to 18% for high schoolers. And the number one and number two things that kids, tweens and teens want to change about themselves are “my weight” and “my appearance.”

So is Huge sending youth mixed messages? Love how you look, but go to our website for healthy snack recipes. Aspire to be Will, who rebels against a camp counselor and her parents who she describes as “demanding that she hates her body.” Laugh and cheer as Will becomes the camp cupcake “dealer,” but share in her regret when her cabin-mate gets sent home for Bulimia.

What I love about the series, at least based on the first episode, is that the show not only allows, but assumes that this issue is more complex than it seems. In an almost dizzying way, you’re set up to despise Amber, the girl who seems to be there to lose just a few pounds, but you’re ultimately drawn to her struggle to really diet and really gain control over her eating. You’re asked to side with Will as she displays her bod in a striptease (down to her bathing suit – this is ABC Family!), but you’re confronted with her admission of vulnerability and shame. Beyond building awareness of the feelings that kids who are struggling with obesity experience, the show seems to send a message that feels true and simple: what tweens and teens of all shapes and sizes really need is support.

Tags: food, kids, Huge, mom, family, Youth, Teens, beverage, ABC Family, TV, tweens

A Different Sort of Beverage Battle

Posted by Amy Henry on Thu, Apr 22, 2010 @ 11:30 AM
"Beverage wars" used to involve taste tests - not taxes. But recently, traditional foes have turned friendly, with Pepsi, Coke, and Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group joining forces in ads that tout their voluntary departure from schools - just as the debate over a proposed tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is raging in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and other cities. 

 

Most opponents argue that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages will rub salt in the wounds of families who are already feeling their pocketbooks pinched. And because there's no way to ensure that retailers will pass the tax along to consumers (and there's little preventing them from distributing the tax across all beverages versus penalizing customers who consume sugar-sweetened beverages), many argue that the tax's public health benefits are not guaranteed.

When it comes to this issue, many politicians find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Many concede that the over-consumption of sugary drinks is at least one contributing factor to many of the weight-related ills that plague today's youth. But many worry that this tax will hurt small business owners - particularly in low income neighborhoods.

Politics aside, it seems that the POV of real kids and families has been largely left on the sidelines...And while we haven't asked them directly about this issue, we do know a few facts that could provide clues to how they're feeling about this issue.

Our YouthBeat data confirms that kids, tweens and teens consume he tax-targeted beverages in significant quantities.

  • When asked what beverages they drank yesterday, 23% of kids, 37% of tweens, and 39% of teens drank soft drinks; 21% of kids, 18% of tweens, and 14% of teens drank fruit drink.
  • And 37% of kids, 40% of tweens and 41% of teens find out about new drinks while in store - which could mean that an increase in price (experienced most at point of purchase) could make them think twice.

We also know that many kids, tweens and teens are spending their own money, and thus, choosing their own drinks. But teens spend the most, and thus the tax could have the greatest impact on them:

  • A full third of teens spent their own money on beverages in the past week. While only 22% of tweens did the same, this represents a significant increase from kids (9%).
  • Almost 40% of tweens and teens (35% and 37% respectively) have shopped in convenience stores in the past month (where we know individual size beverages are frequent purchases).
  • But we also know that teens are not so price sensitive, with most getting money from their parents. Will a price increase of 25 cents or even slightly more really shift their purchase patterns?

And many parents are actively trying to limit the consumption of sugary beverages among their children - and it's reasonable to think that they might look favorably on a tax that purports to help.

  • 59% of parents try to limit their kids from drinking soda.
  • Controlling the sugar in their children's diets is definitely on moms' and dads' minds, with 27% of parents of kids, 25% of tweens and 11% of teens say they are concerned about sugar intake or products that contain too much sugar.
  • The beverages that their children ask them to buy most often would be affected by the tax, with Capri Sun, Gatorade, and Coca-Cola products topping the list.

Regardless of what happens, we expect that manufacturers will continue to push back on the tax - but push the limits of innovation at the same time. Look for more offerings and sub-category growth (among teas, for example) that appeal to kids, tweens and teens while keeping conscious of growing health concerns from parents and politicians. And parents are about to be pushed to put their money where their mouth - or their children's mouths - are!

Tags: research, food, kids, parents, Youth, Teens, beverage, tweens