The VIA - OWL (Optimal Weight for Life) study was initiated when the director of the Children's Hospital Boston OWL clinic attended a presentation of the VIA - Asthma data and discovered how effectively this method could reveal the everyday lives of young people struggling with chronic conditions. One of the great difficulties faced by those who conduct clinical research of obesity is that the condition is so stigmatizing that parents and young people do not report accurately what goes on at home in terms of diet, activity, and related behaviors. Under the supervision of Research Coordinators Daniel Huecker and Jennifer Patashnick, data were collected between 1999 and 2001. Fourteen participants between the ages of 11 and 18 created visual narratives 8 to 36 hours in length.

The videos show the everyday lives of young people who are involved in many activities, who attend school and work, and who socialize with friends and family. The participants also record themselves engaging in self-comforting with food, voracious eating behaviors, above average levels of activity, fidgeting and hyperactivity, and nearly constant media use, particularly television watching. Particularly noteworthy was a phenomenon we term “unconscious eating,” oral consumption while watching television of high salt-, sugar-, and fat-containing foods, which appears to be related to oral stimulation rather than to hunger satiation. Psychological themes included sadness in response to teasing, name-calling and isolation from peers, resentment toward attractive celebrities, emotional distress resulting from dietary restrictions, and family conflict over food and weight issues which affected the interpersonal relationships of not only participants but of those around them. Participants showed limited insight on their own bodies; several referred to smaller young people as fat. They also revealed a number of positive features about being obese, ranging from protection against sexual objectification to being appreciated for a sense of humor, from having physical dominance “I can kill people when I want to” to making a political statement “I don't have to conform to your images of what you think a woman should be.”

The data from VIA - OWL are still being analyzed. Preliminary results have been selected for presentation at national meetings of the Society for Pediatric Research (see Obesity in the lives of children and adolescents: inquiry through patient-created visual narratives) and the Society for Adolescent Medicine (see Living with obesity: visual narratives of overweight adolescents). Please contact us if you are interested in being trained in VIA in order to use our method for primary research or our data for secondary analysis.

VIA - OWL was made possible in large part due to grant funding received from the John W. Alden Trust and the Charles W. Hood Foundation.

View Corrado, S. P., Patashnick, J. L., & Rich, M. (2004). Factors affecting change among obese adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 34, 112.
  Rich, M., Patashnick, J. L., Huecker, D., & Ludwig, D. (2002). Living with obesity: Visual narratives of overweight adolescents [abstract]. Journal of Adolescent Health, 30(2), 100.
  Rich, M., Huecker, D., & Ludwig, D., S. (2001). Obesity in the lives of children and adolescents: Inquiry through patient-created visual narratives. Pediatr Res, 49, 7A.

Explaining the motivation
for weight loss
>> Watch video

Mom and participant
debate snack food
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A boy tells his brother
about a clinic visit
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Requires Quicktime 7

Core Staff:
Michael Rich
Daniel Huecker
Jennifer Patashnick
Richard Chalfen

Related Links
>> Method
>> Origins
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