How Disney Can Fix Its New Ride: Stop Making Fat Kids the Villains!

No matter how much people enjoy shaming fat kids, it just doesn't work

You may have heard about the recent uproar over Disney Epcot’s new “Habit Heroes” ride, wherein kids follow heroes "Will Power" and "Callie Stenics" and fight villains “Snacker” and “Lead Bottom” who snack too much and don’t exercise enough. The goal of the ride: to encourage “children of all ages to learn healthy lifestyle habits and become more active." The problem: all the villains are fat.

Disney seems to think that only fat people have problems. At least they did -- Disney has shut down the ride for “re-tooling.” The company hasn’t admitted to an overhaul but we’d be happy if they simply changed the focus to the habits, and not weight.

Yoni Freedhoff, a family doctor who founded Ottawa's Bariatric Medical Institute, said on his blog “Here's to Disney reinforcing society's most hateful negative obesity stereotyping…what kid doesn't want to be made to feel like a personal failure while on a Disney family vacation?”

While many children’s health experts also felt the ride had gone terribly wrong, there was also immediate backlash to the backlash, with comments like “Please get off of your politically-correct soap box. A little bit of shame and embarrassment can be a good thing.”

Really? Because The National Institute for Health just recently released a statement saying that programs that try to shame kids healthy “reinforce unhealthy behaviors (e.g., overeating). A number of research studies over the last decade have supported this concern. For example, 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.”

There’s also the problem that health interventions that focus on overweight kids ignore the hard facts that there are big kids who eat healthy and exercise and thin kids who eat poorly and are sedentary. This is one of those occasions when evidence and good sense lead us to the exact same conclusion: We should be teaching healthy habits to kids of all sizes without shaming, stigmatizing or humiliating kids of any size.

Surely we can wrap our heads around the idea that stereotyping kids’ looks is a monumentally bad idea. Research shows us that kids take better care of things that they like, and that includes their bodies. Kids of all sizes benefit from developing a lifelong love of moving their bodies and eating healthy foods. You can’t hate, shame, or humiliate kids healthy! And the sooner we learn that lesson, the healthier our kids will be.

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