Focusing on Kids’ Obesity

The director of the Rutgers University Center for Digital Filmmaking embraces a new approach to raising awareness about childhood obesity.

Courtesy of Dean Seidel/Enrique Alvarez Fanjul.

In parts of New Jersey where streets are unsafe, some parents keep their children inside watching TV and eating cheap processed food rather than risk sending them blocks away to the nearest grocery store, where they might find more healthful food options.

So says Dena Seidel, the director of the Center for Digital Filmmaking at Rutgers University, part of the Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Brunswick. Since September, she’s been traveling the state with 10 student filmmakers to produce Generation at Risk: Joining Forces to Fight Child Obesity, a documentary to be released in episodes over the next several years; the first installment will premiere this month on the Mason Gross website (

That’s not exactly a wide release, but Seidel’s work tends to find its way to larger audiences. Two Seidel-directed documentaries made the leap to PBS: Atlantic Crossing: A Robot’s Daring Mission, about the Rutgers-led voyage of the first robotic glider to cross the Atlantic; and Thailand Untapped: The Global Reach of Engineers Without Borders, about three Rutgers students working to bring potable water to a remote village.

The latter aired in April, locally on NJTV.

Some of the research behind the new film stems from the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health (, a think tank-like enterprise at Rutgers sponsored in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Since forming in 2010, the institute has worked to prevent childhood obesity in the state. “It’s absolutely the only facility of its kind in the country, where the research is going right back out into the community,” says Seidel, a resident of Highland Park.    

The documentary weaves the stories of at-risk Jersey kids with the academic findings. “As storytellers, we can help make this research mean something,” says Seidel. “That’s our role.”  

Click here to view the video.

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