Strong 4 Life: Childhood obesity campaign sparks plus sized outrage

An image from the Strong4Life campaign

The U.S is in the grips of a childhood obesity epidemic, and Georgia is ground zero. With 24% of third grade children medically obese and an annual bill of 2.1 million for childhood obesity related hospitalizations it is clear that Georgia is in a state of crisis.

To combat this looming epidemic, Dr Mark Wulkan, surgeon-in-chief for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, started an ad campaign warning of the dangers of childhood obesity. The BBC reports:

“Georgia is second in the nation on childhood obesity, and that’s a top 10 list we want to get out of as fast as we can,” <Dr Wulkan> says.

“We’re seeing very young children in our clinic that had high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease. The long-term health impact for our state, looking at the numbers, is tremendous.”

The time for “warm and fuzzies”, he says, was over. So instead, his hospital created an aggressive campaign, based in part off a previously successful anti-methamphetamine campaign.

This time the target wasn’t drugs, but obesity.

Part of the Strong4Life included giant billboards and bus shelter ads, with photos of grim-looking, overweight children and dire warnings about their future, such as “Chubby isn’t cute if it leads to type two diabetes” and “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid”.

A heavyset young boy accompanied by a warning for obesity

Another image from the Strong4Life campaign.

 The images in the campaign are certainly confronting, but the intent of the campaign is to scare parents of obese children out of complacency, not to mock or insult children. Despite this, fat activists are up in arms about the campaign and the potential effect it may have on the self esteem of overweight and obese children.

“When you’re fat – I calculated this – you’re subjected to 386,170 negative messages a year. When you’re constantly stigmatised, you can internalise that,” says Ragen Chastain, who runs the blog Dances With Fat.

That these messages were targeted to children especially upset her readers.

“Some people identified with the bullied fat kids that they once were. Some parents identified with their own kids and others realised that humiliation is no form of healthcare,” she says.

“It got them to say this isn’t right.”

Ms Chastain says that while she supports healthy habits and movement for children of all sizes, singling out overweight young people feels dangerous and unfair.

Ragen has started her own campaign to raise funds for her own set of billboards, and so far has raised over fifteen thousand dollars. The plan is to put up they’re own set of billboards with fat friendly messages. “”We want kids to have tangible proof that they are respected and valued in the body they have now,” she said in an interview with the BBC.

The backlash to the campaign doesn’t end there:

Fat activist Marilyn Wann designed a template so that people could create their own version of the Strong4Life advertisement, featuring a more upbeat picture and inspirational message.

These photos were posted online, with messages like “I stand for happy and healthy children of all sizes” and “I stand for dignity, kindness and the delights of diversity”. Many have been collected on Tumblr.

From the "I Stand" ad campaign. How this is meant to help obese children, I don't know

A quick visit to this tumblr site reveals a disturbing lack of acknowledgement of the dangers surrounding childhood obesity. Instead, the site focuses on gratifying the egos of fat activists and other people intent on denying the dangers of poor nutrition, lack of exercise and excess body fat.

The campaign from fat activists has been relentless, with some activists letter bombing hospitals and stalking facebook pages.

Meanwhile, Shannon Russell, who runs the blog Fierce, Freethinking Fatties launched a continued campaign against the ads. Every day, he posted on his blog about the billboards, while also writing letters to the hospital staff and commenting on their Facebook page.

Fat activists and the architects of the Strong 4 Life campaign seem to be arguing at cross purposes: Strong 4 Life is primarily concerned with correcting the array of health problems that come from chronic, poor health choices; while fat activists seem primarily concerned with the feelings of the overweight and obese. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being respectful of people’s feelings– especially children– but when someone is engaging in a lifestyle that could leave them to an early grave, sometimes they need to hear harsh truths. No other health crisis has created this response. No one suggests with a straight face that we cancel the faces of meth campaign because it might hurt the feelings of drug addicts. We don’t shy away from AIDS education because it may offend the promiscuous, we acknowledge that drug addiction and STI’s can cause irreparable harm to an individual and we educate them on ways they can avoid these diseases. Why should obesity be any different?

Another image from the I Stand campaign. If I didn't know any better, I'd think that this campaign had nothing to do with helping children and was actually about fat activists congratulating each other on their appearance

Fat activists will point out that not every obese person is necessarily unhealthy, and not every unhealthy person is obese, and they are correct. Thanks to genetics, some people will be able to hide diseases like type 2 diabetes, poor heart health and diet beneath a light frame; and some people will appear heavyset even if they have a great diet and exercise regularly. But for the vast majority of the population their lifestyle will be reflected in their appearance, and children that get as drastically obese as the ones depicted in this ad campaign are certainly at risk for a lifetime of health problems and– tragically– possibly early death.

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Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Health, Medicine, People, Science, Technology

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6 Comments on “Strong 4 Life: Childhood obesity campaign sparks plus sized outrage”

  1. February 15, 2012 at 11:48 am #

    These people truly are a pack of precious, mentally fragile losers when “self-esteem” is more important than health or lifespan. There’s another epidemic sweeping the USA – psychotic denial and delusional projection.

    • February 15, 2012 at 11:50 am #

      PS: I doubt that woman could dance around the block without running short of breath and developing a dangerously high heart rate.

    • James Hill
      February 15, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

      It is a form of denial bordering on mental illness. The western world is in crisis, and we won’t feel its full effects for another few decades when the children growing up today reach adulthood with a full slew of obesity related illnesses.
      Fat activists are entirely preoccupied with trying to artificially skew traditional notions of beauty and seem content to ignore these problems– and they’re entirely welcome to do so. I take issue with it though when they get in the way of actual health professionals concerned with improving the quality of life for at risk children.

      • Anonymous
        February 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

        As a health professional,I see first hand day after day,week after week the repercussions of obese children.

        It should be classed in some cases as child neglect and these so called parents who continue to neglect children should stand accountable in a court of law.

        The impact on society is a serious one, and yes the full effects will be seen in decades to come. But from my observation the effects are already here. The number of diabetic children is increasing at a rapid rate, I have even encountered young teenagers already with alarming increases in their cholestrol and blood pressure. More and more younger kids are starting to suffer with stomach problems, acid reflux, disturbed sleep even skin disorders and thining hair . When are these parents going to start being responsible ,stop being bloody lazy and give the exact nutrition and exercise they need.

        And one thing I am sick of listening to, is when the old chestnut is pulled out in conversation about We cant afford good food its to expensive its cheaper to have takeaway or ready prepared food, and all the while they are sucking on a smoke, and the case of alcohol is on the floor, and their bodies are about to explode from being overweight themselves. Its like a neverending cycle that isnt being broken.

        Break these habits or perish.


  2. February 16, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    It’s yet another example of how feelings are more important than facts. I wonder how much longer we can keep lowering our standards before the 3rd world becomes the first world?

    • February 27, 2012 at 10:55 am #

      There are so many policy positions now that are predicate on “not hurting someone’s feelings.” It’s the new feel-good fashionable way to see things on the basis of “equality.”

      It is true that, to be a winner, nobody has to lose

      at the same time, it is denial to say that losers do not exist and to frame that away

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