Media Ecologies of Health Literacy: Case Studies of Educational Empowerment

Government officials and medical professionals are greatly concerned about the health of children (ages 6-11) in the United States due to the increase in obesity-related illnesses. Risk factors include increased physical inactivity through the chronic uses of digital media and technologies and the lack of physical activity during school. While health education is required within U.S. schools, an integrated or holistic approach is absent. This article looks at three case studies of health education through the lens of media literacy. The discussion focuses on various factors that comprise educational ecologies of health literacy. Factors include media climate, collective empowerment, apprenticeships in social justice, and the importance of funding.



The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not just the absence of disease or infirmity.”1 Background, lifestyle, and socio-economic conditions impact health. Government officials and medical professionals are greatly concerned about the health of children (ages 6-11) in the United States due to the increase in obesity-related illnesses.2 Risk factors also include increased physical inactivity and lack of access to nutritious food. Health experts predict that young people today may be the first generation of Americans with a shorter average life span than their parents and conclude that a major health crisis will unfold if the obesity epidemic is not addressed systemically. Children will suffer more chronic disease and premature death because of the way they eat and their lack of physical activity than from use of tobacco, drugs and alcohol combined.3

In 2012 the US fell from tenth to twelfth place in the rankings of the most prosperous nations in the world.4 Still, the nationwide health problem is curious given the wealth and technological power of the US economy as compared to other nations. The challenge of health in the United States is symptomatic of a larger global epidemic. Reports indicate the world is seventeen million tons overweight. The United States accounts for almost a third of the world’s weight yet comprises only five per cent of the world’s population.5

The government has attempted to quell the obesity crisis through various local, state, and federal mandates. For decades the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has revised food nutrition labeling requirements. The federal government requires chain restaurants across the United States to post calorie information on their menus. Some states also ban the restaurant use of trans fats. The 2010 Health Hunger-Free Kids Act mandates stricter nutritional guidelines for a variety of child nutrition programs. Mayor Michael Bloomberg generated controversy by recently banning the sale of large sodas in New York City. While such policies combat obesity by “making healthy choices easier,” they also restrict freedom of choice.6 Even the consumer-driven anti-tobacco, alcohol, and junk food campaigns situate youth as passive consumers rather than as active producers or agents of social change. Emphasis on the vulnerability of youth does little to cultivate responsible, critically minded citizens.

Public schools play a key role in health education in the United States. The 1967 School Health Education Study reported an “appalling” state of health education in U.S. schools.  The study called for a comprehensive program to address the physical, social, mental, economic, and cultural factors of health. It also framed health as a shared responsibility of individuals, communities, and world nations.7 Recent decades have witnessed a shift away from health and physical education. This is due in part to decreases in school funding and increases in standardized testing.8 Minimal access to public playgrounds and parks in urban areas further constrains physical activity among children. Increased use of TV and computers among young people further reduces physical activity.

In the larger context of families, communities, and government policymakers, public schooling is merely one social organism.9 In fact, research reports that family engagement is the single most accurate predictor of a child’s success or failure in school.10 Family engagement is more influential than a child’s culture, socioeconomic status, and even family structure.11 Along similar lines, fostering good health is more a matter of informal education within a larger system than it is a matter of formal school curriculum.

Confronting childhood obesity in the United States requires a systemic effort. Families, schools, communities, medical professionals, and policymakers must work in concert. This systemic view was a major theme of the 2011 HBO series, “Weight of the Nation.”12

Educators can benefit by joining research efforts with colleagues across the disciplines of education, humanities, social sciences and the medical sciences.13 We can gain insight from the efforts of higher education, medicine, non-profit organizations, K-12 schools, community organizers, and local farmers. In the discussion that follows, I use the lens of media literacy to navigate the complex terrain of health education in the United States. I discuss three current examples of formal and informal health education from a media ecology perspective. In doing so, I call attention to the vital role of media literacy education in cultivating health literacy among young people.

Media Ecologies of Health

In the 1970s Neil Postman introduced the term media ecology. The term was an extension of Marshall McLuhan’s theory that media and technology profoundly influence human society.14 Over the past several decades, media ecology has emerged as an interdisciplinary “study of media environments.”15 Because of the increasingly complex media environments in which we live, a new form of literacy has evolved. Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate information across a variety of forms.16 The goal of media literacy education is to empower people to be “critical thinkers and creative producers” of messages.17 Although a variety of perspectives comprise the growing field of media literacy, a common thread is the need for education in a variety of forms and contexts.

Media literacy “raises critical questions about the impact of media and technology;” however, “it is not an anti-media movement.”18 Along similar lines, the crusade to end childhood obesity is not an anti-food movement. Clay Johnson in Information Diet compares the obesity epidemic to media illiteracy. He writes, “Obesity isn’t caused simply by cheap access to food, but in part by an abundance of cheap and often misleading information about food . . . information obesity can cause actual obesity.”19

Mediated information is both a risk factor to health as well as one of the most powerful tools to ensure good health.

It is also important to point out that just as access to information does not ensure healthy behaviors, mere access to technology does not ensure media literacy. Consuming information is analogous to consuming food. Health is not solely determined by what or how much food a person consumes; it is also determined by how much energy one expends or one’s level of physical activity. Similarly, media literacy requires more than just critically consuming information; media literacy also requires the active “creating and sharing” of information.20

Achieving health in the 21st century requires educating children to think critically about obesity as an epidemic and fostering an understanding of the inequitable social, political, and economic dimensions to health, particularly inequitable structures such as access to nutritious foods, decreased value of physical activity in schools, and the persuasive techniques using in food marketing. Such education also requires educators to help young people individually and collectively to act upon their new knowledge and perceive themselves as agents of social change. Critical engagement with information and participation in the larger communitiesof which young people are a part is key to fostering media and health literacies.21

This active, participatory approach of critical media health literacy requires a major shift in the way educators use media and technology in schools. There needs to be a shift away from the traditional, centralized model of teaching as information dissemination (broadcasting) and toward a bottom-up, decentralized (networked) approach to learning. The epicenters for formalized health education such as brick and mortar school classrooms and medical offices need to shift to a networked model of information generation, like those found in grass-roots movements such as those discussed in the next section. The popular use of social networking technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest has already played a major role in democratizing informal learning. However, social media is slow to take hold in formalized education, where the perceived social and behavioral risks currently outweigh any perceived learning benefits. In the next section, I look at uses of media technologies within three different health literacy-oriented educational environments.

Media Literacy Educational Ecologies: Three Case Studies

The following three cases are illustrative of the richly complex media ecologies of health literacy currently at play both in and outside the United States. Together they represent the interplay of individuals, families, communities, schools, media technologies, and government policies. The cases comprise a cross-section of ages and educational levels (elementary, middle, secondary), although they interface with formalized schooling in differing ways.

Martha Payne and the Power of One

In April 2012 nine-year-old Martha Payne with the help of her father started her own blog, NeverSeconds (, as part of a school writing project at Lochgilphead Primary School in Argyll, Scotland.22 She decided to combine her school assignment with her general disappointment with the quality and quantity of food comprising her school lunches. Her goal was to hone her writing skills and to raise a few dollars for her favorite charity, Mary’s Meals, which orchestrates school feeding projects in communities around the world. In the process, Payne captured less-than-flattering photos of her school lunch tray and wrote meticulously descriptive commentary that rated each meal with a “food-o-meter” and counted the number of bites required to consume it. (The meals on average scored 7 out of 10.) In at least one instance, Payne complained that it was not enough food to help her focus on her schoolwork—and named her blog NeverSeconds after the school policy against second portions. After a local paper published an unflattering story in reaction to Payne’s blog (implying the lunch workers should be fired), the local school council reacted by banning Payne from further publishing photos of her school lunches on her blog. Bewildered at the controversy, Payne stated she was upset at having to stop her writing project halfway through the process.23 Payne then started posting pictures of school lunches sent to her by children in Germany, Japan, Spain, Taiwan, and the United States.24

The banning of posting school lunch photos prompted a global outcry through social media and a public relations nightmare for the local school council. Under much public (even worldwide) pressure, the council then lifted the ban. The powerful images of her school lunches resonated throughout the world and compelled responses from other high-profile food celebrities who championed her cause via Twitter. Soon after the ban was lifted, it was announced that Payne would be “teaming up with celebrity chef Nick Nairn to help the council provide more nutritious meals at her school.”25

While Payne’s original goal was to raise £10,000 for charity, she ultimately raised more than £100,000, which was enough to feed thousands of school children in Malawi for more than a year. By June 2012 Payne’s blog had surpassed three million hits and she was traveling to Malawi to see the two thousand children fed by the kitchen constructed by Mary’s Meals and whom she called “Friends of NeverSeconds.” With the help of her father, Payne co-wrote a book about her experience—with the proceeds of each book sold to go towards feeding twenty-five children in Malawi.26

Payne’s story illustrates the profound social, political and economic impact of a relatively simple media technology infrastructure. Increasingly popular since the 1990s, a blog (or web log) is an online journal that can be viewed and commented on by others. In Payne’s story, she used a blog platform with a simple user interface ( configured to public access to combine text and images to richly describe, share and ultimately facilitate understanding of what she experienced during school lunch. In contrast to other social media such as Facebook or Twitter, a blog post requires more extensive articulation. Payne serendipitously mobilized a worldwide community not only to initiate change in her local school culture (leading to “big improvements” in the school meals)27 but also to enact change on a global scale by leveraging donations and diverting them to feed school children in Malawi. Payne’s story is a flipped version of the mantra “think global, act local.” Her thinking about the local facilitated enactment on a global scale—both through garnering (unintentionally) a global network of support and then strategically using that support to help children in an other part of the world.

Blogging is also conducive to reflection and social interaction through the ability to post comments and to share authorship. This has implications for multicultural education. The honing of her political and social justice voice plays out as she interacts with peers from other countries who shared images of their own school lunches as a multicultural education. One blog contributor writes, “When we think of wasting our food because we don’t like it, we should take a moment to think about the starving kids who are badly in need of food. We should grow strong in order to help others. So eat healthy food without wasting it and remember to be thankful for the food you get!”28

Payne’s voice initiated opportunities for other children across the world to be educated about more than just (un)healthy school lunches. There are lessons here about civil dissent, school policy, equity, social justice, and discipleship. There are threads of language arts, critical thinking, argumentation and debate, health literacy, and politics that comprise a rich educational tapestry. The simplicity of the social networking technology of a blog illustrates that technological literacy is merely the starting point and in Payne’s case—the catalyst for global citizenship.

Payne’s lesson on the power of viral journalism cannot be understated. Blogging technology affords an author total control over content and access. Users have the ability to post, edit, configure, and delete content at any time. The risks and benefits therefore become a matter of social propriety rather than technological savvy. At the same time, however, Payne’s father plays a pivotal role in guiding her through those risks—from helping her initially set up her blog to navigating the controversy and helping his daughter manage the media attention, even co-participating in press interviews. It is significant that Payne’s father insists they “never wanted to campaign.”29 One BBC reporter noted, “It was a writing project. She’s interested in becoming a journalist, and my goodness, she’s had something of a lesson in how modern day journalism can go viral.”30 Payne learned important lessons under the guidance of her father. From this perspective, we can argue that adults have the responsibility for teaching young people about the moral values of care, compassion, civility, charity, and civic-mindedness.

In the case of Payne’s blog, social media catalyzed the controversy and leveraged global support for a local cause that ultimately transnavigated geographies and cultures and made a global impact. Although Payne’s blog was part of a formal school assignment, ultimately it was guided by motives of Payne, her father, and eventually a crowd-sourced online community that emerged as oppositional to the motives of the school council. The uses of social media were like the ground shifting from underneath her as she navigated the unexpected controversy and the exacerbated consequences in real time and in public. Accompanied by her father, Payne herself stated in an interview, “It’s really annoying because everybody wants to talk to me.”31 The construct of health was flipped—away from an internal state of being to a social and political goal that involved social change and helping others.

The ecosystem of Payne’s blog, family, school, town, and online social network interact in ways that have powerful implications for young people as they observe Payne’s story. Her interpretation of a formal curricular assignment undoubtedly transformed Payne’s identity as a young person in her classroom, school, country and world. She negotiated the complex relationship between the choices of individual expression online and the responsibilities associated with the unintended consequences within the larger, global community.

For Payne, health literacy involved a close examination and public expression of her own relationship to her school lunches, which serendipitously evolved into a collective effort to cultivate health (via school lunch) in poor neighborhoods in Africa. Blogging catalyzes globalization of the hyperlocal, which has implications for health among young people as they develop their physical, intellectual, social and even political identities laid against a global canvas. Children learn from each other about food culture and privilege differences.

Transforming Culture through the Edible Schoolyard

In 1971 chef Alice Waters founded Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, with the philosophy that “cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally.”32 Over the course of four decades Waters has emerged as a culinary expert, author, pioneer for local farming, proponent of sustainable agriculture, and strong advocate for public education.

In 1996 after noticing an asphalt-covered, open plot of land in the yard of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School near her restaurant, Waters commented in a local newspaper that the school she passed every day “looked like no one cared about it.”33 The principal of the school reached out to Waters and collaboration began among teachers, families, and the local community. Over the course of several years, Waters worked with parent volunteers and the community to transform more than an acre of asphalt into a school garden, called the Edible Schoolyard (ESY). Waters notes “It took several years of cover crop to get some of the poisons out of the ground.”34 The meticulous efforts were built on Waters’ belief that when children are involved in the growing and preparing of food, they want to eat it—ultimately providing a long term solution for the ongoing health crisis. After recruiting The Center for Ecoliteracy as another collaborator (and funder), Waters was able to hire a full-time garden director. The ESY continued to expand as students cleared trees and brush to place two 3,500-gallon cisterns to collect the rainwater for irrigation. They also built a chicken coop for an expanding flock of chickens and ducks.35

By the third year of its inception, the ESY expanded to include a teaching kitchen. Teachers, parents and community members came together to transform an abandoned school cafeteria into the kitchen classroom.36 The garden and kitchen directors worked with teachers to generate lessons linked to classroom studies, such as teaching fractions in the kitchen by measuring ingredients and teaching about early civilizations by growing heirloom grains. Measuring the garden beds and counting seeds were also part and parcel of the math curriculum. Students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting, and preparing garden-grown food during the school day and in after-school classes. They learn to think critically and more deeply about the food they eat. Students learn about civilizations, including the history of food and the plight of the farmer.

Waters’s goal was to change the relationship between children and food while simultaneously creating interactive experiences to connect history, math, and science. By the fifth year and with a staff of eight people, ESY hosted ten ninety-minute classes per week in both the garden and the kitchen. The staff was also able to expand the relationship with the broader school community by hosting traditional school celebrations such as Family Writing Night and the English Language Learners Dinner. The annual Mother’s Day Plant Sale has become a significant community and fundraising event.37

Currently there are 551 school gardens worldwide, 279 academic classrooms, and 241 kitchen classrooms that have adopted the ESY model. These include schools in Australia, Italy, Canada, Great Britain, and Ecuador.38 Each year the original ESY at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in California hosts thousands of people on public tours. For the past four years a small number of educators from around the world have completed in an intensive summer teaching academy to learn how to begin edible education programs in their own communities. The goal is to continue developing “hands-on outreach” and eventually bring the ESY institute to member locations.39

In 2003 Waters’s Foundation launched the School Lunch Initiative in an effort to transform school lunches. Ultimately, Waters was able to improve school lunches, increase students’ knowledge of nutrition and intake of fruits and vegetables.40 The school itself is simply the institutional vehicle for a larger social and cultural shift that must take place. Many of the challenges of scaling up what is now called the “Edible Education” movement have to do with school budget cuts and a shrunken school curriculum due to standardized tests. Other schools within Berkeley Unified School District also vie for the same funds as Waters’s high profile program in MLK Jr. Middle School. This suggests that sustaining existing programs and scaling up edible education on a national level may require increased government funding, which is also highly competitive.

It is ironic that virtual experiences on the Web serve as powerful mechanisms for a movement that hinges on real, sensory experience. A major part of expanding the ESY and edible education movement is through social media. The ESY web site ( is a worldwide network for members to access and contribute curriculum and best educational practices. The current focus is to build a network that not only expands curriculum but also shows innovative work by awarding network members badges on their online profiles.41 Thanks to a growing constituency of followers, anyone in the world can tour the ESY online and experience it virtually. This 16-minute do-it-yourself (DIY) video on YouTube provides a detailed citizen-on-the-ground tour of the schoolyard along with a personal commentary:42

The expansion of the edible education movement hinges upon wider accessibility of the ESY educational model. Educators, community activists, and families need to be able to access program information, curriculum ideas and lessons easily online. The web is also key to this growth as it facilitates crowdsourcing of similar content and viral third-party promotion, as shown in the video above.

For Waters and ESY, good health is the right of every child and health literacy is an essential goal of education. As such, edible education should play a major role in compulsory schooling in the United States. Through hands-on experiential learning and the curricular integration of garden, classroom, and cafeteria, students learn to think critically about their food, as well as local and world cultures, and in turn develop a mindful, respectful relationship with food. In short, if they grow it, they will eat it. The use of online video conveys the aesthetic and naturalistic power of the ESY to a global audience, and the online social network cultivates unity as a mechanism for transforming the school lunch-as-curriculum.

Teens, Transmedia, and Taking Responsibility for Health through T2x

In 2009 the National Institute of Health awarded a $1 million research grant to the University of California at Los Angeles School of Public Health to collaborate with Health Net Inc. and EPG Technologies. Together they developed T2x (, a teens-only health literacy online social network. T2x was designed collaboratively to address the challenges faced by 93 percent of California teens (ages thirteen to eighteen) that have access to health insurance but are not skilled in “navigating the healthcare system.”43 The goal of T2x was to see if an online social network would increase low-income “teens’ capacity to access and use their insurance, become more engaged in their health care… decisions, and develop pro-health attitudes.” In January 2012 the program was expanded nationwide.44

T2x houses more than 1,600 health articles written specifically for teens on topics such as nutrition, fitness, stress management, substance abuse, and anti-bullying. Beyond access to health information, the online community houses competitions, games, quizzes, blogs, video sharing, and other multimedia tools. Teens can share their health concerns and chat online with “health experts” and one another. (Health Net members can directly access the nurse advice line as part of their health care benefits.) Areas of expertise include sex, STDs, relationships, infectious diseases, and addiction. All chats are managed and conversations logged. The level of information is customized to the teen-user—by texting keywords to a designated number the user can receive important health-related texts on their mobile device.45

Empowerment, self-expression, and responsibility are key themes of T2x. Teens can upload video content and photos. Users can see activities and upcoming events in their local community. They can set new goals or use one that another user has created, such as “Lose Weight.” The social support and associated materials for that goal are stored for each individual user. Users can also create and contribute to discussions on a range of topics (from music to health) on bulletin boards and/or link their T2x account with Facebook and Twitter. Beyond social networking, T2x is a powerful example of leveraging transmedia storytelling—telling different parts of the story using different media forms—to more effectively engage teens to facilitate their transition into adulthood. Transmedia is highly participatory and allows the user to shape their own learning experience on their own terms.

The most educationally innovative aspect of T2x is the ability to create micro-sites or “Spaces” within T2x that afford a customizable experience. The “Club” project is a story that unfolds in a series of webisodes about a group of students who are members of their school’s Health Club. Real students from a local performing arts school star in the short videos. The first webisode debuted in May 2011 and introduces the characters beginning with Lucas who, after being caught smoking on school grounds, is punished by the principal requiring him to join the school’s Health Club alongside a group of “nerdy health-obsessed misfits”:46

Club users can participate in discussions with cast members and additional content is added to the site in real time as users interact with the characters to create their own experience. T2x also provides a mixture of mobile and online (and classroom-based) activities. Teachers can use this as part of classroom curriculum and extend the learning beyond the classroom with SMS technology on mobile devices. Self-contained topic-oriented stories are also available on the site for classes who visit the site during sustained blocks of time.

The main purpose of T2x was to increase low-income teens’ capacity to access and use their health insurance and to be “knowledgeable health care consumers.”47 Yet T2x is significant in ways beyond its original goal, as seen in initial research findings. The “ReThink Your Drink” Campaign fostered critical thinking among adolescents about consuming high-caloric beverages. Research suggests a 71 percent improvement in health knowledge, a 54 percent improvement in attitude, and a 75 percent improvement in “intent for behavior change.”48 The project has also been noticed as a “best practice in patient engagement.”49 There is a lot of potential in T2x and in its creative uses of transmedia storytelling to improve health care literacy among young consumers. However, its viability as a social network for adolescent health literacy education remains to be seen.

Common Threads and Considerations
Media Climate

With each of these examples lies a dynamic push-pull flow of information that is catalyzed by social media. As a budding journalist, Martha Payne pushed information to a global audience through her NeverSeconds blog as part of a school project. As controversy ensued, her ability to push out information was temporarily halted. At the same time, there was a massive global pull for updates about Payne’s plight and global interest in her charity grew. Although it yielded awkward notoriety for Payne, there was a literal pay-off that helped her to exceed her original charitable goal.

In the case of the Edible Schoolyard, the growth of Waters’ initiative and the edible education movement rely mainly on the joint efforts of educators to push hyperlocal content to the ESY network ( The transmedia example of T2x is a blend of pull-push where teens can pull information based on their own health interests and reciprocally push their own content back into the T2x network. Both the teen user and the health care industry benefit in real time and in their own ways from the transactional experience. Broader questions for educators to consider include

  • What types of technologically-mediated experiences are most effective in fostering healthy physical and social behaviors?
  • How might these mediated experiences interface with the bureaucratic structures of formalized education?
Collective Empowerment

Empowerment is threaded through each of these case examples. It begins with a single user, and then it is diffused to a larger community. At only nine years of age, Payne took ownership of her school writing project. Through the lens of her own career aspirations as a journalist and her dedication to charity, she meticulously and systematically reflected on her daily school lunch experience. Despite (or perhaps because of) worldwide attention, Payne was able to publish her story of social justice with her father as co-author. This further gave voice to her global cause, Mary’s Meals.

The vision of ESY is clearly outlined as a collective revolution that begins with an individual student who experiences a school-lunch curriculum with hands-on work within the garden. Each student experiences the life cycle of food and makes connections based on his or her own sensory experiences. Edible education teaches that each child (individual) has a role to enact in the garden (community).

Similarly, a major goal of T2x is youth empowerment through health literacy. This power is contingent upon each “Club” experience to further generate additional content and social interaction that, in turn, benefit the entire network of adolescent heath care consumers. Broader questions to ask might include

  • In what ways can the health literacy of individuals be leveraged appropriately for the collective benefit of all children and adolescents?
  • How can social networking be used for health education in both formal and informal educational settings?
Apprenticeship in Social Justice

The value of adult leadership and role modeling as scaffolding for the individual child or adolescent cannot be understated. In Martha Payne’s story, her father is by her side every step of the way, and they are united in their commitment to equity: all children deserve a healthy school lunch, no matter where they live in the world. Payne’s father showed her how to set up her blog and how to raise money for charity. Indirectly, he showed her how to civilly dissent matters of school policy, navigate press interviews, and tell her story to a publisher. Payne learned from her father how to navigate the democratizing effects of social media and their unintended consequences.

In the Edible Schoolyard, Waters entered as a culinary pioneer and passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture. She was already a veteran practitioner of an “eco-gastronomic” curriculum, making her entry into formal schooling a natural step in furthering her agenda to “teach, nurture and empower young people” and make a humane and sustainable future accessible to all children.50 Although Waters does not directly interface with students as a classroom teacher, her expertise, leadership, and example were paramount to the initial success of ESY and the outgrowth of collateral programs.

In the third example, the T2x portal provides an apprenticeship from the middle in the sense that the adult health care experts are invisible within the Club but omnipresent and on-demand as needed. An additional layer of apprenticeship is found in the health literacy narratives that are vetted by health experts but enacted by real high school students in the dramatized webisodes. Questions that emerge include

  • What leadership qualities and structures are essential to cultivating health among young people?
  • What role can digital apprenticeships play in health literacy education?
Funding Matters

In each of these cases, funding (or lack thereof) plays a crucial role in the success (or failure) of the individual child or adolescent within the larger media ecology of health education. Payne’s vision of journalism and global philanthropy was exponentially magnified with crowdsourced online donations and her socioeconomic status that enabled her to travel to Malawi to see the school kitchen and meet the children impacted by her efforts—experiential learning at its finest. Waters was already fiscally viable (through her Chez Panisse Foundation) prior to establishing the Edible Schoolyard. The ESY began as a philanthropic effort that garnered additional financial support through a network of like-minded constituencies that included the school district, community organizations, families. Waters’s vision of equitable access of healthy school lunches and edible education for every child cannot be realized, however, without reliable funding streams from local, state and federal governments—a tall order in economically tough times.

T2x was originally backed by the health care industry (corporate backing) alongside federal grant and university money, affording the research and development of more sophisticated technological experiences for adolescent users (beyond blogs and social networking). At the same time, while health literacy appears a logical investment by the health care industry, it is unclear how corporate motives may conflict with the moral values of families, schools and communities.

Families, community organizations, religious organizations, libraries, universities, government agencies, and media professionals together comprise the growing field of media literacy education. If the public purpose of schooling in the United States is to cultivate healthy and responsible citizens, then it follows that educators at all levels must imbue digital, media, and health literacies. Furthermore, if life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are to be tangible realities rather than abstract principles, then the ability for educators to engage in interdisciplinary research and praxis is crucial. We can learn much from health researchers of childhood obesity: “a comprehensive solution to the rise in obesity will require broad environmental and social changes”51 As this article suggests, if parents and educators pay attention to how media ecologies shape the formal and informal education of young people in the United States, improvements are also more likely to occur with simple environmental changes. Doing so requires all stakeholders to unite in the shared purpose of cultivating health among all children and adolescent youth.



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Olshansky, S. Jay, Douglas J. Passaro, Ronald C. Hershow, Jennifer Layden, Bruce A. Carnes, Jacob Brody, Leonard Hayflick, Robert N. Butler, David B. Allison, and David S. Ludwig. “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century.” New England Journal of Medicine 352 (2005): 1138-1145. Accessed January 8, 2013. doi: 10.1056/NEJMsr043743.

Payne, Martha, and David Payne. NeverSeconds: The Incredible Story of Martha Payne. Glasgow, UK: Cargo Publishing, 2012.

Postman, Neil. “The Reformed English Curriculum.” In High School 1980: The Shape of the Future in American Secondary Education. Edited by Alvin Christian Eurich. New York: Pitman Publishing, 1970.

Quiter, Elaine. “ Using Social Media to Connect Health ‘Care’ Literacy and Teens, Public Health Education and Health Promotion.” Public Health Education and Health Promotion (Fall 2011).

Rainey, Sarah. “The Everyday World of Martha Payne: Hollywood Offers and Magic Potions.” Telegraph (London). June 22, 2012.

Rainey, Sarah, Alastair Good, and Richard Alleyne. “School Dinner Blogger Martha Payne Explains It Has Led to ‘Big Improvements’ in the Meals.” Telegraph (London). June 22, 2012.

Rauzon, Suzanne, May Wang, Natalie Studer, and Pat Crawford. An Evaluation of The School Lunch Initiative: Final Report. Berkeley: University of California, 2010.

Stump, Scott. “9-Year-Old Food Blogger to Overhaul School Lunches With Celeb Chef.” Today. June 12, 2012.

Su, Hoa. “T2x: ReThink Your Drink Campaign.” HEAL Collaborative. Presentation. Sacramento, September 6, 2012,

Temes, Judy. “Health Net and UCLA Expand Social Media Program.” San Fernando Valley Business Journal. January 11, 2012.

Trost, Stewart G. “Physical Education, Physical Activity and Academic Performance.” Active Education (Research Brief). June 2009. Accessed January 8, 2013.

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Weaver-Hightower, Marcus B.“Why Education Researchers Should Take School Food Seriously.” Educational Researcher 40, no. 1 (2011):15-21. doi: 10.3102/0013189X10397043.

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Notes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. “WHO Definition of Health,” World Health Organization, accessed December 12, 2012, Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, June 19-22, 1946; signed on July 22, 1946, by the representatives of sixty-one States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on April 7, 1948.
  2. Susan Okie, Fed Up! Winning the War Against Childhood Obesity (Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2005), 5.
  3. S. Jay Olshansky et al., “A Potential Decline in Life Expectancy in the United States in the 21st Century,” New England Journal of Medicine 352 (2005): 1138-1145, accessed January 8, 2013, doi: 10.1056/NEJMsr043743.
  4. Legatum Institute, “Four Year Rankings Table,” The 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index, accessed January 8, 2013,
  5. Sarah Catherine Walpole et al., “The Weight of Nations: An Estimation of Adult Human Biomass,” BMC Public Health 12 (2012): 439, accessed November 5, 2012, doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-12-439.
  6. Ryan Jaslow, “NYC Health Commissioner on Soda Ban: ‘We are just making healthy choices easier,’” CBS News, September 19, 2012,
  7. William H. Creswell et al., Health Education: A Conceptual Approach to Curriculum Design: Grades Kindergarten Through Twelve (St. Paul, MN: 3M Company Visual Products / Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, 1967).
  8. Stewart G. Trost, “Physical Education, Physical Activity, and Academic Performance,” Active Education (Research Brief), June 2009, accessed January 8, 2013,
  9. Okie, Fed Up!, 187; Stephanie von Hinke Kessler Scholder et al., Genetic Markers as Instrumental Variables: Application to Child Fat Mass and Academic Achievement (Bristol, UK: The Centre For Market And Public Organisation, January 2010),
  10. Jacquelynne S. Eccles and Rena D. Harold, “Family Involvement in Children’s and Adolescents’ Schooling,” in Family School Links, eds. Alan Booth and Judith F. Dunn (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996), 3–34.
  11. Anne T. Henderson and Karen L. Mapp, A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement (Austin, TX: National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools, 2002); William H. Jeynes, “A Meta-Analysis: The Effects of Parental Involvement on Minority Children’s Academic Achievement,” Education and Urban Society 35, no. 2 (2003):202-218.
  12. John Hoffman, Dan Chaykin, and Sarah Teale, The Weight of the Nation (New York: HBO Home Box Office, 2012), four-part television documentary,
  13. Marcus B. Weaver-Hightower, “Why Education Researchers Should Take School Food Seriously,” Educational Researcher 40, no. 1 (2011):15-21, doi: 10.3102/0013189X10397043; Lynda Bergsma, “Media Literacy and Health Promotion for Adolescents,” Journal of Media Literacy Education 3, no. 1 (2011): 25-28.
  14. Neil Postman, “The Reformed English Curriculum,” in High School 1980: The Shape of the Future in American Secondary Education, ed. Alvin Christian Eurich (New York: Pitman Publishing, 1970).
  15. “What is Media Ecology?,” Media Ecology Association, accessed December 12, 2012,
  16. Patricia Aufderheide, Media Literacy: A Report of the National Leadership Conference on Media Literacy (Washington, D.C.: Aspen Institute, 1993), v.
  17. “Media Literacy Defined,” National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE), accessed December 12, 2012,
  18. Ibid.
  19. Clay A. Johnson, “Information Obesity and Food Obesity,” The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption (blog), July 28, 2010,
  20. Renee Hobbs, Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action (Washington DC: The Aspen Institute, 2010),
  21. Joan Wharf Higgins and Deborah Begoray, “Exploring the Borderlands Between Media and Health: Conceptualizing ‘Critical Media Health Literacy,’” Journal of Media Literacy Education 4, no. 2 (2012): 139-141. Higgins and Begoray devised the term critical media health literacy (CMHL) to denote the skills and abilities to critical interact with all forms of media, personal and community empowerment, and “engaged citizenship” that enables effective participation in the complexities of modern life.
  22. For further details of these events, see Martha Payne and David Payne, NeverSeconds: The Incredible Story of Martha Payne, Glasgow, UK: Cargo Publishing, 2012.
  23. Sarah Rainey, Alastair Good, and Richard Alleyne, “School Dinner Blogger Martha Payne Explains It Has Led to ‘Big Improvements’ in the Meals,” Telegraph (London), June 22, 2012,
  24. Emily Allen, “Back for Seconds: School Dinner Blog Gets a Million Hits as Nine-Year-Old Author is Inundated with Global Meal Pictures,” Daily Mail (London), May 25, 2012,
  25. Scott Stump, “Nine-Year-Old Food Blogger to Overhaul School Lunches With Celeb Chef,” Today, June 12, 2012,
  26. Payne and Payne, NeverSeconds. 1.
  27. Rainey, Good, and Alleyne, “School Dinner Blogger Martha Payne.”
  28. Harshi, “Goodbye and Thanks from Harshi,” NeverSeconds (blog), October 23, 2012,
  29. Rainey, Good, and Alleyne, “School Dinner Blogger Martha Payne.”
  30. Colin Blaine, interview by Lisa Mullins, “Photo Ban for Nine-Year-Old School Lunch Blogger Lifted,” PRI’s The World, June 15, 2012,
  31. Sarah Rainey, “The Everyday World of Martha Payne: Hollywood Offers and Magic Potions,” Telegraph (London), June 22, 2012,
  32. “Alice Waters, Executive Chef, Founder and Owner,” Chez Panisse,
  33. “The Original Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California,” Edible Schoolyard Project, accessed November 5, 2012,
  34. Lisa Eisner, “Alice Waters: Edible Education,” Nowness, video, 3:45, August 24, 2011,
  35. “The Original Edible Schoolyard.”
  36. “The Kitchen Classroom,” Edible Schoolyard Project, accessed November 5, 2012,
  37. “The Original Edible Schoolyard.”
  38. “Explore the Network,” Edible Schoolyard Project, accessed November 5, 2012,
  39. Sarah Henry, “New Edible Schoolyard Head Heron Plans for Growth,” Berkeleyside, October 26, 2012,
  40. Suzanne Rauzon, May Wang, Natalie Studer, and Pat Crawford, An Evaluation of The School Lunch Initiative: Final Report (Berkeley: University of California, 2010), 41.
  41. Sarah Henry, “New Edible Schoolyard Head.”
  42. Growing Your Greens, “Edible School Yard Garden Teaches 1,000 Students a Year about Food,” YouTube video, 16:52, uploaded January 22, 2012,
  43. Elaine Quiter, “ Using Social Media to Connect Health ‘Care’ Literacy and Teens, Public Health Education and Health Promotion (Fall 2011):
  44. “Health Net’s & UCLA’s Health Literacy Social Media Program Opens to all Teens Nationwide,” Enhanced Online News (press release), January 31, 2012,
  45. Ibid.
  46. Kevin Blake, “Club Episode 1: New Meat,” produced by Lori Nelson and Skyler Jackson (ENCOMPASS Production, 2012), from T2x—The Club, YouTube video, 5:24, uploaded May 23, 2011,
  47. Judy Temes, “Health Net and UCLA Expand Social Media Program,” San Fernando Valley Business Journal, January 11, 2012,
  48. Hoa Su, “T2x: ReThink Your Drink Campaign” (presentation, HEAL Collaborative, Sacramento, September 6, 2012),
  49. Temes, “Health Net and UCLA.”
  50. “Alice Waters,” Chez Panisse.
  51. Okie, Fed Up!, 42.
Vanessa Domine

About Vanessa Domine

Vanessa Domine is an Associate Professor of educational technology at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

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