Strong4Life Anti-Childhood Obesity Campaign Stirs Debate with Message

by on December 3rd, 2010
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A nearly year-old anti-obesity campaign started in Georgia continues to stir debate for its use of overweight children in advertisements with tag lines like “Warning: It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.”

The Strong4Life public service announcements have stirred debate on both sides of the issue — some support it, others call it “fat shaming.”

* Strong4Life started the campaign to combat the rising numbers of overweight Georgia children. According to the organization, nearly one million children are classified overweight or obese.

* The Centers for Disease control reports that nearly 12.5 million children ages 2-19 are considered obese.

* Georgia has one of the highest obesity rates in the nation with 29.6 percent of the population considered obese, according to the CDC. This makes the problem an epidemic, according to Strong4Life.

“Everyone knows that we should eat better and exercise. Childhood obesity is a crisis because nearly 40% of children in the state are overweight or obese,” the organization wrote on its website.

“It’s a health crisis because obese children are at risk for developing heart disease, hypertension, liver and kidney disease and type 2 diabetes.”

* Opponents of the billboard campaign say the emotional toll of the ads will far outweigh the benefits.

“Billboards depicting fat kids are extraordinarily harmful to the very kids they are supposedly trying to help,” a spokesman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance told the Associated Press in 2011.

“Stigma is not an effective motivator. Whether children or adults, if they are teased or stigmatized, they’re much more likely to engage in unhealthy eating and avoidance of physical activity,” Yale University psychologist Rebecca Puhl told The Associated Press.

* One of the girls featured in the ads agrees with the campaign. ‘At first I had a little hesitation. But I was like, ‘just give it a try,’ and once I got the part and I went there, I saw it was a really great opportunity,’ 14-year-old Maya said on the “Today Show.”

* Supporters say a brash campaign is needed to make people aware of the problem. ‘We felt like we needed a very arresting, abrupt campaign that said: ‘Hey, Georgia! Wake up. This is a problem”,’ senior vice president at Children’s Healthcare, Linda Matzigkeit, told The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Meagan Morris is a freelance multimedia journalist who focuses her work around important cultural and women’s issues around the globe. Follow her on Twitter @upsidemeagan.

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