Youth Health Focus of New Comics Series

Animated characters in the Health Heroes comic series engage in a series of poses showing health and strength, including lifting weights, running and eating healthy.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of U.S. adolescents were classified as overweight or obese in 2012.  When MEd Youth Development student Eric Meredith looks at youth health messaging about health and nutrition, he sees part of the problem.

“It’s complicated, it’s confusing, it’s not engaging,” Meredith said. “When I look at movies such as Harry Potter or Twilight or the Hunger Games, I think wouldn’t it be great if we could combine that commercial blockbuster appeal with health messages.”

Meredith earned a master’s degree in nutrition in 2010 and is a classically-trained chef, registered dietitian and certified youth exercise specialist…but not a filmmaker.

So Meredith took a different path to change the messaging, creating ‘Health Heroes,’ a new series of comic books and a social network dedicated to helping children find victory through lifelong good health, character development and overall wellness.  The book features a youth-empowerment focus of meeting youth and defining the issues of their lives in their own terms.

He started by examining the comic book market in the United Kingdom, where a series called MediKids has sold more than a million copies.  Through further studies into efficacy of messaging and the teaching of health, Meredith decided to contract with comic industry professionals to produce the series and health care experts to review the efficacy of the messaging.  His writer wrote the Sonic the Hedgehog series for Marvel Comics and his artist formerly worked for Nickelodeon.

“I really began to understand that instead of working on youth, we need to work with youth,” Meredith said. “Rather than focusing on a deficit model, in which you are picking out what is wrong and trying to address those problems, we’re focusing on what is right, what you are doing well, what you are reading, where you are on the web.”

In the series, a new breed of young heroes called the H-TEAM has answered the call to help children leverage their strengths and protect the world from destructive forces. The first issue details the events that transpire when a powerful alien arrives on Earth and disrupts the planet’s natural balance through the creation of a team of super-beings, and what results when her equally-powerful twin brother creates a team of young superheroes to counter this new threat. The members of the H-Team are courageous, powerful, and able to overcome any obstacle while doing great deeds at the same time. Each book in the series fosters the belief that every child can become a superhero by learning how to achieve optimal health and helping other kids do the same.

Over the past two years, Meredith has worked with the Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion developing curriculum of evidenced-based approaches to teach SNAP-eligible populations of all ages how to implement evidence-based messages into lifestyles.  He says the opportunity to observe what strategies worked well and which didn’t, even though all were based on scientific reasoning, gave him key insights into how to affect behavioral change.

“If you have an engaged young person and they feel like they are being empowered and not talked down to, the message resonates more,” Meredith said. “When young people identify with the story, at the end of the day you immerse yourself into that role and learn how the choices you make effect your lifestyle moving forward.”