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Georgia Childhood Obesity

January 4, 2012 by staff 

Georgia Childhood ObesityGeorgia Childhood Obesity, In an effort to fight back against Georgia’s soaring rate of childhood obesity, a local children’s hospital in Atlanta decided to launch a controversial ad campaign last August featuring overweight kids with stinging captions like “chubby kids may not outlive their parents” and “it’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.”

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Now, though, the hospital, called Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, is under attack from critics who say the ad campaign has gone too far. And I’m inclined to agree.

“This campaign is an example of what not to do in obesity prevention,” said Yale University obesity researcher Rebecca Puhl in an interview with the Today show, adding that it “perpetuates prejudice toward childhood toward children who are affected by obesity and already vulnerable to pervasive teasing and bullying because of their weight.” This, she said, makes them more likely to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors and avoidance of physical activity.

Children’s Healthcare said they were spurred to launch the campaign after the latest statistics revealed that one million children in Georgia — nearly 40 percent of the state’s children — are overweight or obese, and that three-quarters of parents with overweight kids don’t see their kids as overweight. In a press release, the hospital called the ads a “tough love” approach.

But some parents are outraged, judging by recent comments on the campaign’s Facebook page. “Horrible!” said one 42-year-old mother who wrote her 6-year-old is “taller and thicker than average” and gets teased all the time. “You have no idea obviously of the damage this will do with the ad. You will hurt more than you help.” Other posters called the campaign a form of bullying.

“The ads are targeted to parents not to kids and were meant as a wake-up call to the dangers of this epidemic,” said Linda Matzigkeit, senior vice president at Children’s Healthcare when I asked her about the criticism. “We don’t think they’ll an increase in bullying and that was certainly not our intent. As part of the $25 million campaign, she said the hospital has also trained more than 1,000 doctors, nurses, and dietitians on ways to educate parents on childhood obesity prevention and treatment.

The obesity ads remind me a lot of the graphic cigarette warning labels

that the US Food and Drug Administration plans to slap on cartons this year if they’re not stopped by industry lawsuits. They certainly grab your attention. But unlike the smoking ads — which target a bad habit — these ads target the people themselves, in this case overweight kids who are already taunted, teased, and stigmatized.

And unlike smokers who consciously choose to begin the habit and may be deterred from ever trying a cigarette in the first place, overweight kids don’t choose to get fat and can’t simply give up a specific bad habit (like eating) to shed pounds. The issue is far more complex than simply labelling obesity as bad for your health.

I just keep imagining thin kids passing by the billboards on the way to school and using them as another excuse to tease the chubby kid sitting next to them. “Hey, aren’t you that girl in the ad? Nah, you’re much fatter!”

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