McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Student and prof blend science and animation to educate about childhood obesity

Published: April 14, 2016

An animated video series to help battle the threat of childhood obesity has been created by a student of McMaster's Integrated Sciences Program (iSci) and a McMaster pediatrics professor.

For his fourth-year thesis project, Aaron de Jesus, with the help of Dr. Constantine Samaan, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics, has developed a series of educational videos on healthy, active living for children.

But for de Jesus and Samaan, this series, named The Kiducate Project, was more than an assignment.

"There's a global epidemic of childhood obesity," said Samaan. "One in three to four children are obese, and this is echoed around the world."

Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, added Samaan. With increased threat of CVD, diabetes and emotional health issues, the dangers of childhood obesity needed to be understood by parents and children right away.

"The importance of healthy living lays in the future results," said de Jesus. "It's critical to have an impact on kids and to instill a healthy background while they grow up."

The issue for the duo during brainstorming sessions was balancing educational messages with a captivating tone. All too often, those two can be at opposite ends of the spectrum, said the iSci student.

That's where de Jesus's background in video production played a factor. He minored in theatre and film studies, and for the past two years, he's been freelancing as a cinematographer.

Samaan said he saw an opportunity to harness de Jesus's abilities: "This is someone who is talented in cinematography. When Aaron and I got talking, it became clear to me that this is someone who can actually translate this knowledge, and he took on the challenge in a phenomenal way."

They worked with Sam Estrabillo, a Hamilton freelance illustrator and a student of graphic design at Sheridan College.

Though de Jesus had no experience in animation, he felt it would be the best way to get the message across, mostly because: "Who wouldn't like a cartoon child trying to teach people?"

De Jesus used his network of contacts to find an animator and voice actors for the series. After months of work, he's produced three videos, each with a different theme, all found on the Kiducate website. Roughly four minutes in length, the videos feature narration by child voice actors as they discuss diet and nutrition, physical activity and sleep.

"My project is definitely out there," said de Jesus after he got a chance to see all the other projects in his class. "This is not the typical wet lab."

Nearing the end of his last year of iSci, de Jesus said the program has really encouraged the amalgamation of classroom-based learning and real world applications. He'd like to find a job that blends science with communication.

As for Kiducate, both Samaan and de Jesus said they'd like the project to continue growing and spread further the dangers of childhood obesity. They've even planned a Kiducate Film Festival to show the three short films.

Running from 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Apr. 20 at McMaster Innovation Park on Longwood Road, the festival is open to children ages five to 14 years old and their families.

[Register for the Kiducate Project Film Festival]

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