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CNN Classroom Edition: Fed Up - America's Killer Diet

  • Story Highlights
  • Understand the possible causes of obesity
  • Explain the health consequences of being overweight and obese
  • Assess the nutritional content of fast foods
  • Examine why obesity is considered a public health issue
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(CNN Student News) -- Record the CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Fed Up: America's Killer Diet when it airs commercial-free on Monday, October 1, 2007, from 4:00 -- 5:00 a.m. ET on CNN. (A short feature begins at 4:00 a.m. and precedes the program.)

Program Overview

Americans are among the fattest people in the world, and since the 1980s, the nation has experienced an unprecedented spike in obesity rates. CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports on the surprising science behind how diet affects the body and brain, and how unhealthy food remains central to the American diet despite growing consumer awareness about health.

Grade Levels: 7-12

Subject Areas: Health, Science, Current Events


The CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Fed Up: America's Killer Diet and its corresponding discussion questions and activities challenge students to:

  1. Understand the possible causes of obesity;
  2. Explain the health consequences of being overweight and obese;
  3. Assess the nutritional content of fast foods;
  4. Examine why obesity is considered a public health issue.

Curriculum Connections


Standard 1: Knows the availability and effective use of health services, products, and information

Level III Grade: 6-8

Benchmark 2: Knows how to locate and use community health information, products, and services that provide valid health information

Level IV Grade : 9-12

Benchmark 2: Knows how to determine whether various resources from home, school, and the community present valid health information, products, and services

Standard 2: Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health

Level III Grade: 6-8

Benchmark 2: Understands how various messages from the media, technology, and other sources impact health practices (e.g., health fads, advertising, misconceptions about treatment and prevention options)

Level IV Grade: 9-12

Benchmark 6: Understands how cultural diversity enriches and challenges health behaviors (e.g., various food sources of nutrients available in different cultural and ethnic cuisines, influence of cultural factors on the treatment of diseases)

Standard 6: Understands essential concepts about nutrition and diet

Level III Grade: 6-8

Benchmark 1: Understands how eating properly can help to reduce health risks (in terms of anemia, dental health, osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, malnutrition)

Benchmark 2: Knows appropriate methods to maintain, lose, or gain weight according to individual needs and scientific research

Level IV Grade: 9-12

Benchmark 2: Understands the reliability and validity of various sources of food and nutrition information (e.g., dietary supplements, diet aids, fad diets, food labels)

Benchmark 3: Understands the role of food additives and their relationship to health

McREL: Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (Copyright 2000 McREL) is published online by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) ( ), 2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500, Aurora, CO 80014.

Discussion Questions

1. What factors contributed to Adrian McHargh's weight gain? What health risks was he facing as a result of his weight? What measures has he taken to improve his health and lose weight?

2. According to the program: How is the American diet harming our health? What percentage of Americans is either obese or overweight?

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3. What are some of the health problems associated with being overweight?

4. According to the report: What factors make it difficult for Americans to defy obesity? How are omega-6 fatty acids, advertising and the existing U.S. Farm Bill thought to contribute to America's obesity problem?

5. To what extent do you think that obesity is a problem among your peers? Do you think that obesity is a public health problem? Why or why not?

6. Given the choice between fresh fruits and vegetables or junk food, which would you choose for a snack, and why?

7. Do you think that selling junk food and soda in vending machines promotes bad eating habits? Why or why not? In your view, should vending machines be allowed in schools? Why or why not? If so, what food and beverages do you think should be sold in them? Discuss.

8. What are trans fats, and in what foods can they be found? According to the program, why are trans fats considered unhealthy? Do you think that young people should be concerned about eating trans fats? Why or why not?

9. According to the report, how are some fast food restaurants addressing the issue of trans fats?

10. Do you think that local or state governments should regulate the use of trans fats in restaurants? Why or why not?

11. What are "processed foods"? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of these types of foods?

12. Do you find it difficult to eat a well-balanced diet? Why or why not?

Suggested Activities

1. To help students become more aware of their eating habits, have each student keep a log for three days of all the food he or she eats and his or her mood prior to eating. Working in groups, have students analyze the nutritional content of their food to determine if their meals and snacks are nutritionally balanced. Have group members suggest ways to make their diets more nutritious. Refer students to their data and ask them if they can draw any correlations between their emotional states and the quality of their diet.

2. Inform students that fast food, a main staple for many children, has been linked to obesity. According to Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children's Hospital Boston, "Most children in the United States have fast food at least once a week and it's served in enormous portion sizes." He notes that "typical fast food meals are high in refined starch and added sugar (and) also have a high glycemic index...(which), according to some studies,...can increase hunger and make a person want to eat more throughout the day."

Next, as a class, generate a list of the fast food restaurants in your area. Group students and have each group select a restaurant from the list. Challenge each group to analyze the nutritional content, including the fat and caloric content, of a cross-section of their restaurant's menu. Point out to students that many fast food chains post the nutritional content of their food in their restaurants and online. Students can also access fast food nutritional information here ( Have each group determine which of its restaurant's foods are healthier, and if these foods fit in with a balanced diet.

3. Challenge students to make a list of key public heath issues other than obesity that exist in America today. These issues might include smoking, alcohol and substance abuse, child abuse/neglect and AIDS. Then ask: What factors do you think influence people's attitudes on these issues? To what extent, if any, do people's attitudes influence government intervention and legislation on public health issues? What are the pros and cons of legislating public health issues? Give examples.

Then, share with students the following quote from a report released in 2002 by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government: "Most Americans are well informed about food and nutrition, [but] only a minority believe obesity is a "very serious" health problem.... Contrary to the views of health experts, most Americans view obesity as resulting from individual failure rather than environmental or genetic sources."

Ask students:

  1. In your view, how does obesity compare to other health issues, such as smoking, alcohol or substance abuse or child abuse/neglect?
  2. Why do you think that most Americans look at obesity as a result of individual failure?
  3. Do you think that obesity should be considered a public health issue? Why or why not?

Following the class discussion, instruct students to write position papers that outline their views on obesity and whether or not they think the U.S. government should respond to the issue. For example: Should the U.S. government regulate or tax unhealthy food products? Should television ads that promote unhealthy foods for children be banned? Should parents be held legally responsible if their children become obese? Have students share their papers with the class and discuss.


obesity, heart disease, diabetes, junk food, trans fat, soybean oil, omega-6 fatty acid, cholesterol, Farm Bill, advertising, processed food, fruits, vegetables E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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