Photo Credit: supportallkids.com
The first time I saw one, I felt physically ill -- a billboard with a sad-looking, chubby little boy, dressed in drab, too-tight clothing with the slogan: “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid.” I learned that it was part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s (CHOA) multi-media Strong4Life campaign. I learned that the actor in the ad is actually a healthy, happy, confident child. And, I decided it was time to take a stand.
So did: The National Eating Disorder Association, Academy of Eating Disorders , Obesity Action Coalition, Binge Eating Disorder Association, Association for Size Diversity and Health, the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance, Kaiser Permanente and a group of 558 mommy bloggers. They all denounced the campaign. Even the National Institutes of Health, which had originally stated that they were prohibited from issuing a statement for or against a campaign or product, released a statement that said:
“… this campaign carries a great risk of increasing stigma for those children who are overweight or obese which, in turn, can reinforce unhealthy behaviors (e.g., overeating). ...studies suggest that overweight children who are teased about their appearance are more likely to binge eat or use unhealthy weight-control practices, and weight-based victimization has been correlated with lower levels of physical activity.
Other studies show that the perception that obesity is solely a matter of personal responsibility, as opposed to understanding the complexity of contributing factors, can increase negative stereotypes of overweight people. It is important, therefore, that public messages about obesity address this complexity whenever possible.”
This campaign doesn’t just hurt fat kids. It hurts thin kids as well -- misguiding them into believing that their weight makes them healthy regardless of their habits, and creating a fear of being fat that can lead to disordered eating.
So, I decided to start a campaign to raise the $10,000 needed to put up a billboard with a positive message. I contacted Marilyn Wann from fatso.com and Shannon Russell, who runs the Stop Strong4Life Facebook group. Then, Jay Solomon from More of Me to Love offered a challenge donation: If we got $5,000 from 1,000 individual donors, they would match it. A week and a day later we got our one thousandth donor and ended the fundraising campaign with $21,721.20. In March we will launch a full media campaign with the goal of showing the kids of Atlanta that they are valued and respected, and proving that we can give a message about promoting health in kids of all sizes without humiliating any kids at all.
This has been a profitable campaign for CHOA. They’ve taken over $375,000 in donations -- $145,000 from Coca Cola and the rest from the likes of IHOP, Waffle House, Dairy Queen, and Golden Corral. All the while, CHOA claims juice is too sugary but fails to say anything about soda.
It's time to stop trying to shame kids healthy. Let's teach good nutrition and start helping them create the self-esteem and mental health that they need to make good choices for their physical health.