Teacher Kristina Berdan and students Ronnie Chapman and Joshuah Broadnax

A SuperSized Effort Toward Better Eating

By Kristi Birch

Imagine middle school kids in the United States living without fast food, candy, pizza and soft drinks. For one month, at the Stadium School in northeast Baltimore, that’s just what teacher Kristina Berdan challenged her seventh graders to do.

Berdan knew how much junk food her students were eating. “They come in with sour-cream-and-onion chips at 7:30 in the morning, and they bypass lunch altogether,” she says. 

Twenty-three students signed up. The rules: to eat only healthy food for 30 days, exercise more and keep a food journal. Many fell off the wagon. “A lot said it was just too hard,” Berdan says. Others said their parents got irritated when they couldn’t eat at fast-food restaurants their families normally patronized. But Berdan still thinks it was a good exercise. “I think most of them are eating less and are aware of it,” she says.

The month of healthy eating was the last part of a nutrition unit Berdan incorporated into her language arts class. The first part included an essay contest about fast food. The two winning essay writers were selected to attend a special Bloomberg School screening of the award-winning documentary SuperSize Me, in which director and star Morgan Spurlock eats nothing but McDonald’s food for a month to gauge the effects on his body. He gains 24 pounds, his cholesterol soars, and after 20 days his doctor begs him to stop.

Spurlock attended the October 29 special screening, which drew more than 400 viewers, including essay-contest winners Ronnie Chapman and Joshuah Broadnax, who had front-row seats. Spurlock took time to stop and talk with the two boys. “He said he had to eat vegetables and nutritious food just to get his body back on track,” says Ronnie. 

Since seeing the film, both students say they have cut down their trips to the Golden Arches from once or twice weekly to a couple of times a month. “All those pounds he gained from eating that food. And his liver turned into fat. I just can’t get over that,” says Joshuah.

Berdan is now working with a group of kids who aim to change the menu in the school cafeteria, where French fries, chicken nuggets, hamburgers and pizza are standard fare.

Berdan says she’s pleased by the progress she’s seen students make. “[They’re more] aware of what they put in their bodies, which is a big step,” she says.