Video Projects Influence Student Health

Las Cruces, New Mexico
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Film is a creative, impactful way to tell a story—especially when it deals with real-world problems and solutions. In Las Cruces, New Mexico (67.1% Latino), school dietitian Barbara Berger saw the need to increase eating well and physical activity among students. Berger and others worked to get funding to enable students to make creative videos that solve health issues in school and promote healthy eating and physical activity for their peers.

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Since 2012, dietitian Barbara Berger has worked in health and nutrition education for the Las Cruces Public School District. She worried about her students—especially middle-schoolers—as many faced declining health and unhealthy weights.

“We do so much with elementary kids, it’s so easy to do nutrition education with tasting lessons—but with middle school it’s so hard to come up with something,” Berger said.

Berger identified a potential area of influence: middle-school media students.

“We started working with media students because there are media programs in all the middle schools,” she said.

Patty Mars had worked with middle-school media students as part of the New Mexico Department of Health. She helped those students use “photovoice.” Photovoice is an activity where kids make observations, take still photos, and describe stories based on their photos to highlight school and community issues.

After a local meeting on childhood obesity, Berger talked to Mars and the New Mexico Department of Health.

They began thinking more about how to apply photovoice to engage students around health challenges in their schools and communities.

But what about using videos instead of photos?

“Media kids in middle school are learning how to make videos, and they might as well do it on our topic,” said Berger.


Berger and Mars wanted the health video project to enable middle-schoolers to critically and creatively think about showing how the school district is supporting positive food and activity choices. They also could help identify what could be done better.

But they needed funding to try out the video project.

Students from the 2016 HEAL film festival from Camino Real Middle school stand with Dana Andrews a Camino Real Middle School teacher to accept their award for most creative film. (Photo Source: Berger)

Berger learned about the Paso Del Norte Health Foundation for a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) grant. She decided to apply.

“They’re very supportive, they’re a health foundation in El Paso, they do a lot of amazing stuff,” Berger said.

Paso Del Norte approved the funding of nearly $40,000 to enable students to produce 18 short videos with clever messaging about leading healthier lives.

Berger also worked to get additional funding through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) for camera equipment and other start-up costs.

As they generated funding, they planned out some video project parameters.

They thought the videos should focus on factors that contribute to obesity, from marketing to unhealthy eating to lack of physical activity.

They wanted the students to create solutions to help prevent obesity and unhealthy matters in their school environment.

“It’s so good to have kids come up with solutions,” said Berger.

They also planned to have a film festival where students could submit their videos to compete for awards. This would help drive creativity and original content through competition.


Students, teachers, and staff are recognized by the local paper for their participation in the HEAL Film Festival. (Photo Source: Berger)

Berger and Mars needed teachers to set up the video projects in their classes.

They decided to give teachers a slice of the HEAL grant funding to buy video equipment and lead the projects for their media students.

They recruited six teachers.

In December 2012, they trained these teachers on environmental issues that impact a healthy weight for children. They also showed them how to guide students to assess their environment for areas of improvement.

“The teachers were very interested in working with us because we got some equipment allotment and then we had training for them, paid for by the grant, which was so great,” Berger said.

Berger and the teachers also began working with a graduate student who knew about film production. The student shared ideas about what would make a good health video.

“You know, that’s a good thing to have, bringing teachers together and doing a training, and then talk about what we’re looking for, and give them some background. Because they’re not experts in health—they’re media teachers,” Berger said. “It was nice to have a new perspective.”

The six teachers trained their students to use the video equipment. Then they gave them an assignment: create a three- to five-minute video that examines policy and environmental barriers to healthy eating and active living in their school and community.

The videos also would feature students’ proposed solutions to unhealthy eating and active living.

Several teachers, like Jason Day and Dana Andrews of the Camino Middle School Media Program, worked hard with their kids on the video projects, Berger said.

On May 6. 2013, the first-ever HEAL film festival featured 12 films from the middle-schoolers who participated in Berger’s health video project to promote healthy eating and active living.

Three Las Cruces middle schools and two high schools won awards at the event at the Las Cruces Public Schools Performing Arts Center at Onate High School.


Berger and the teachers institutionalized the film curriculum.

A HEAL film festival flyer handed out to schools to get support and attend the Las Cruces Public School’s film festival. (Photo Source: Berger)

Every year, they have participating teachers show each new set of students how to create videos around healthy ideas.

Teachers now assign one new film project a year to middle-school media students at eight middle schools. The assignment is divided into topic areas. Teachers pick one video per topic per class to be entered into the festival.

Berger challenges students in the media classes, speaking to the kids about unhealthy school environment issues that affect students, such as unhealthy vending machines or advertising.

The films really impact the kids and their school environment.

For example, Berger explained how one 12-year-old student interviewed an Albertson’s manager asking what they were doing to promote healthier eating in their stores.

Other students presented a video to their School Board to ask for salad bars. The presentation helped bring about salad bars in more than 40 schools in the district.

After three years, the initial HEAL grant funding ran out, but the camera equipment and teacher training continue to be handed down. This enables the project to continue with little or no cost.

HEAL film festivals also now occur annually each May to highlight students’ abilities to creatively find solutions to healthier school environments.

All who come to the HEAL film festival get to watch the videos, listen to guest speakers on health and media issues, and eat healthy foods supported by SNAP-ED dollars. Those monies also help to pay for inexpensive medals and mini-Oscars awarded to students.

“I wish everyone could see these [films],” Berger said. “It impacts the kids that work on them, their classes, their families and it’s nice, we’ve had some cool videos.”

Additional Links

See some students HEAL video samples here:

This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.


Salud America! The RWJF Research Network to Prevent Obesity Among Latino Children is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program aims to educate researchers, decision-makers, community leaders, and the public in contributing toward healthier Latino communities and seeking environmental and policy solutions to the epidemic of Latino childhood obesity. The network is directed by the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

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