January 9, 2013

Natural Foodie: Maine doctor's 'Dunk the Junk' makes healthy food look hip

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

Dr. Kevin Strong knows the public-health community is being outspent and outmaneuvered by the makers of junk food. But he's not willing to shrug his shoulders and let the hucksters of soda, candy and processed foods win the battle for children's stomachs and, by extension, the war over obesity.

click image to enlarge

Dr. Kevin Strong slam-dunks junk food through a basketball hoop in front of a mural painted by Portland artist Mike Rich. More of Rich’s work can be seen at mikerichdesign.com.

Courtesy of Dunk the Junk

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Dominique Wilkins, an NBA Hall of Famer who is considered one of the best dunkers of all times, left, Dr. Kevin Strong, founder of Dunk the Junk, and rap artist Killer Mike attend the Dunk the Junk event at the Emma Hutchinson Elementary School in Atlanta.

Russell Kaye photo

Additional Photos Below

DUNK THE JUNK

TO LEARN MORE about the Dunk the Junk campaign, visit dunkthejunk.org or find it on Facebook.

DUNK THE JUNK'S Top 10 Foods to Dunk:

1. Soda

2. Sports drinks

3. Chocolate and strawberry milk

4. Sugar cereals

5. Fruit/vanilla yogurt

6. Granola bars

7. Peanut butter with added sugar

8. Veggie puffs

9. Fruit snacks and fruit juice

10. Energy drinks

DUNK THE JUNK MATERIALS:

"Top Ten Foods to Dunk" poster lists 10 sugar-laden foods and provides stickers to place on the poster after each food has been dunked from a child's diet. It sells for $10, with discounts available for larger orders.

"Animals Ate the Alphabet" was written by Kevin Strong, M.D., and Robert Strong, Ph.D., and illustrated by Hannah Berta. The book, written for toddlers and young children, promotes literacy and makes eating vegetables fun. It sells for $15, with discounts available for larger orders.

SUPER BOWL SUNDAY:

Check out the Dunk the Junk's Twitter feed at twitter.com/DunkTheJunkFood during the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. Dr. Kevin Strong intends to put out parody messages to counter halftime singer Beyonce's $50 million endorsement deal with Pepsi. Strong said the promotional image of her pushing a cart full of soda would be more accurate if she had an amputated leg, an insulin needle sticking out of her thigh and a rotten tooth.

"As physicians and a medical community, we've done a poor job of public-health branding," said Strong, a pediatrician from Camden. "There's public-health information we want to get to the public, but we don't brand it the way a junk food company would."

To counter the slick marketing messages of those selling sugar-filled foods and drinks, Strong launched "Dunk the Junk" two years ago Friday. Using street-style elements frequently found in TV commercials -- such as hip-hop, graffiti and basketball -- Dunk the Junk is reaching kids from coast to coast with the message that it's cool to toss out the junk food and eat real foods instead.

To date, Dunk the Junk has worked with Camden schools, the Emma Hutchinson Elementary School in Atlanta and the Palm Springs Unified School District in California.

Strong and the artists who work with him also brought their message to the Art Basel show in Miami last month, the Food Day celebrations in Boston last October and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art last winter.

In Atlanta, Strong was joined in showing the hip side of fruits and vegetables by rapper Killer Mike and retired Atlanta Hawks basketball player Dominique Wilkins, an NBA Hall of Famer known for his thunderous dunks.

As part of the Atlanta event, students wrote and performed their own raps. A quartet of fifth-grade boys, calling itself The ShortyZ, won the competition with a song that included the lyrics: "Veggies are our lifetime, eat 'em all day/ If you don't wannabe fat, throw all the junk away."

The song's catchy chorus goes "Dunk the junk/Dunk the junk/Throw away the candy/That's what's up."

Dunk the Junk is funded by private donations. Most of the schools it works with have grant funding to promote nutrition that they use to pay for the Dunk the Junk program and materials.

Portland artist Mike Rich, who primarily works in aerosol and is known for his graffiti-style murals, has traveled around the country with Strong, painting images of evil soda cans and happy fruits.

"When I was in school, I remember seeing outdated videos and corny things that would try to teach us about nutrition," Rich said. "I think it's pretty smart of (Strong) to put it in a shiny new package."

At some of the schools they've visited, Rich has worked with the teachers to have students submit drawings to him. He then picks the best ones and incorporates their characters into a permanent Dunk the Junk mural he creates at the school.

"I'm doing something that will be there when we pack up and leave," Rich said. "Hopefully, they'll remember what they learned through that."

Rich views graffiti art, with its anti-establishment roots, as an ideal medium to communicate healthy food messages to kids.

"I see graffiti art as being the antithesis of marketing and packaging," Rich said. "A lot of natural foods -- fruits, water -- it's all bland packaging. They lack the marketing of Kellogg's or Nestle."

Statistics show that nearly one in three American children are overweight or obese, and Strong has seen the reality of this firsthand in his young patients. Particularly troubling to him are the youngsters who've developed diabetes from eating too much junk food and not enough real food.

"Your body has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to eat food directly from the land," Strong said. "You can't take the sugar of 10 oranges and squeeze it out and eat it and not expect your pancreas to be overwhelmed by the volume of sugar."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Hutchinson Elementary fifth-graders Marshall Jackson, Jayquan Jones, Robert Couch and Carmani Brown, calling themselves The ShortyZ, won the Dunk the Junk rap contest.

Morgan Kirkham photo

  


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