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July 26, 2015

Bite Size

by Franz Patrick


Bite Size (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

There is something about a child diagnosed with diabetes by twelve years of age telling the camera that he is probably not expecting to live very long because of his condition. Weighing over two hundred thirty pounds, Davion hopes to become a football player one day. “Bite Size,” directed by Corbin Billings, is documentary about childhood obesity in America and it focuses on four subjects stemming from different racial and economic backgrounds. It is a well-intentioned work but one that is limited in scope.

It gets a few things exactly right. For example, emphasis is placed on the importance of support, whether it be a parent, friend, or a school counselor, when it comes to continuing to choose the right foods to eat and participating in an exercise regime. It is especially critical for children because they look up to the adults to set an example. At some point in each one of the four strands, there is a lack of guidance and a set of rules to be followed. It comes to no surprise that although the children are educated about the importance of eating healthy and being physically active, they still continue to gain weight.

There are no charts and graphs to show us the statistics and trends of childhood obesity—and it doesn’t need to. These things are not needed when we see the subjects’ overweight bodies as they walk toward the camera, how regretful they sound when speaking about the concerns and fears of possibly being diagnosed with diabetes, and the shame of recollecting memories from school when they are bullied by their peers. The lack of mathematics and colorful figures makes the documentary feel more personal.

I wished, however, that the picture had asked the parents the tough questions. Yes, they come to recognize their responsibilities toward their children’s health eventually. However, a lot of the time the material gives the impression that the parents are left to their own devices and not really knowing what to say to the camera. There is a disruption in the flow and the topic’s sense of urgency. Clocking in at just about ninety minutes, the film, however, feels like two hours long. This is particularly noticeable in Moy’s story—his household torn between recklessness (his father) and responsibility (his mother).

Most compelling to me is KeAnna’s segment—not because of KeAnna herself but because of the school counselor named Lisa who tries to help her and her friends to lose weight. The counselor, who also has weight issues, wishes to help so much that she makes an effort to learn how to dance—an activity that her students love. Lisa even starts a weight loss program called “Si Se Puede” so that they can lose weight together. What starts as a weight loss program turns into a program of self-love and learning to take responsibility for oneself. It is not something that Lisa—nor I—expected.

The documentary should have spent more time with Emily, a twelve-year-old who once weighted two hundred and thirteen pounds. She lost over eighty pounds during her time in a weight loss camp but when she left, she began to gain weight again. Emily claims she is determined never to become the size that she once was. I think that this is a very important piece of the puzzle, one that is worth exploring deeply because it has some psychological implications, but the material insists on spending equal time with its four subjects.

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