For Amy Huang, obesity is more than statistics and terms such as “epidemic.” It’s about individual struggles, painful self-image and family dynamics — topics that the UCF medical graduate explored in a documentary she created during her undergraduate education at Duke University. As a biology major, Huang says her primary focus had to be on science, but she’s also an artist who uses drawing, painting and filmmaking as a way to stay in touch with her creative side and add greater context and meaning her desire to study medicine.
The film about an 11-year-old girl fighting to overcome obesity — the same condition her mother has struggled with — was featured in a Huffington Post article, “Stop Typecasting Overweight Kids.” Producing the documentary allowed Huang to give a face to the challenges that a lot of Americans are facing. “I was able to work so closely with this young woman, to see how her struggle was so personal,” she says.
For the project Huang worked with Duke’s Healthy Lifestyle Program, which offers support for overweight children and their families, including lessons on healthy eating and family fitness. She says the most “haunting” lesson from her filmmaking was learning what participants liked best about the program. It wasn’t the free, fun and convenient activities. “The best thing about the program was that they were working out with kids who looked like them,” she said, rather than feeling like the only overweight child in a gym full of thin, fit children. “It was about inclusion.”
The documentary offered Huang an intensely personal look at obesity. Allison, the film’s young subject, shared with the filmmaker the pain of buying clothes and not being able to fit into the “cute” fashions that her thin contemporaries wear. And she talked about the self-doubt and the teasing that overweight children must endure from other youngsters. Allison gives advice in the film: “If you see someone is overweight, they’re still a person. It’s not like they’re a different species. People who are overweight want to be regular sized.” Allison’s mother, who had gastric bypass surgery several years ago because of her weight, talked about not wanting her daughter to have the same painful experiences she had faced and her wish for Allison to learn better eating and coping habits earlier in life.
In addition to her filmmaking, Huang also has volunteered at a cancer resource center and nursing home in Durham, N.C., and tutored young African girls in Kenya as part of a program dedicated to empowering underprivileged young women through education and health. She says she chose UCF for medical school because its friendly, supportive atmosphere reminded her of Duke. “I like UCF’s ambition,” she explains. “It has a great idea of where it’s going in the future.”
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