Michael F. Roizen, founder of RealAge.com, and Mehmet C. Oz, Emmy-winning host of The Dr. Oz Show, are two of America’s most trusted doctors. They also happen to be the bestselling authors of the YOU health series and have teamed up again, this time for YOU: The Owner’s Manual for Teens.
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Roizen and Oz hope the book will help teens better understand their bodies and minds as they navigate the turbulent adolescent years. Recently, Roizen talked to us about his writing partnership with Oz and what they learned while creating the newest addition to their series.
A lot of manuals on teen health already exist. What made you and Dr. Oz decide to write this book?
Mehmet and I learned that our book YOU: The Owner’s Manual was already being used by 650 high school and middle school kids as a text in their biology classes. We wanted to create something less expensive for them, something more directed at them. What we learned from teachers was that when students were given a choice, they chose to read the chapter on sex, and we felt it was not written in a way that was ideal for teens. Since our material was already being used, we decided we ought to make something better, something just for this audience. At the same time, we were already working with a program called Health Corp. Teens, and using materials to help kids in after-school programs. We figured out a lot about our material and tone for this book from our work with Health Corp.
You and Dr. Oz have written many books in the YOU series. How would you characterize the tone shift that’s necessary for speaking effectively to teens?
Teens are a tricky audience! You cannot be too preachy or dry. You have to be upfront and honest, talk to them as though you’re behind closed doors—half doc, half friends. And you have to put the material in an order that makes sense to them. Our style is fun and light and edgy, and we attempt to be entertaining, what we call “fun enough to read even if it wasn’t assigned or about a subject you like.” Fun, but not too much…because they sense it if you’re trying too hard.
I assume that you tried drafts out ahead of time on teen readers, who can be quite direct when you ask for their opinions.
Yes, brutally honest! They spared no criticisms! Dr. Oz’s daughter Zoe was key. She was assigned the job of getting 20 friends to read different chapters and give feedback. Then our teen health expert [Dr. Rome] had her kids read it. And in addition, we had 40 more teens who read different chapters.
Where did these additional teens come from?
They came from any place we could find them. A number of them told us, “You’ve got to go further,” for example, on information to do with sex and body parts. Actually, some wanted more, some wanted less. We were intrigued to find that the chapter they all appeared to really enjoy was the one on the brain and brain development. We got the most positive feedback about that chapter. We also learned that they wanted more on food and cooking, complete with recipes and menus enjoyable for kids. Meals that could be made quickly by kids. That was one of the most interesting things. We had a lot on nutrition, and we now have a fair bit in the book about healthy cooking and eating too.
You two have collaborated on many books. How do you divide up the writing labor?
We have a pretty unusual system. We involve a group of people who all work together, lots of people helping, as you can see from our title page. But overall we start with Dr Oz doing the first half of each chapter, the physiology of a subject, and then I do the tips or action steps. We also meet and do long conference calls on Sunday morning. And Ted Spiker helps us put it all together in readable, uniform language. Mehmet and I also involve our two wives and Dr. Rome in the critical editing.
What was the most surprising topic you ended up addressing?
Definitely the material on eating disorders. We were not planning on addressing that. We were surprised to learn that one in five teens suffer not from obesity but from a not-eating problem. We thought the numbers were a lot lower, and were really blown away to learn how common teen eating disorders are.
What hopes do you have for this book?
If I had one hope for the book it’s that it really helps make high school or middle school biology more fun.