Strong4Life’s “Tough Love” Childhood Obesity Campaign Creates Controversy

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In an effort to turn September’s Childhood Obesity Awareness Month into Stop Childhood Obesity Month, a new, in-your-face billboard, television and radio ad campaign, called Strong4Life, hopes to wake people up to the skyrocketing rate of childhood obesity in Georgia. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, designer of the campaign, calls the approach “tough love,” but with slogans such as “Fat kids become fat adults,” some are left wondering if the ads will hurt the very kids the campaign is trying to help.

The stark, black-and-white multimedia campaign includes television ads featuring overweight children talking about being picked on at school or how they are scared because they were diagnosed with hypertension. At their conclusion the ads say, “Stop sugarcoating it Georgia.” Billboards popping up all around metro-Atlanta show some of the same kids with messages like, “Warning: Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid.”

According to a 2009 report by Trust in America’s Health, more than 20 percent of Georgia’s children are overweight, the second-worst percentage in the country, only barely trailing behind Mississippi. In the South, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi all have child obesity rates of more than 20 percent. Oregon boasts the fewest overweight children with a 9.6 percent child obesity rate.

Overweight children face a host of medical conditions, says Carolina Cruxent, Director of Wellness Marketing at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; conditions like hypertension, fatty liver disease and Type 2 diabetes.

“These ads are intended to raise awareness of this health crisis among parents and caregivers,” Cruxent said, “so that we may all come together to work toward a solution.”

The campaign, dubbed Strong4Life, is a community effort, Cruxent said. Children’s has partnered with Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, the YMCA and the Georgia Department of Public Health with a goal of moving Georgia out of the top 10 states in childhood obesity rankings in five years.

Children’s will help families adopt the long-term change needed, she said. “We’ll make a difference in kids’ lives, and our programs will serve as a model for southern states in addressing the childhood obesity epidemic.”

Not everyone believes the campaign is using the right strategy. Peggy Howell, Public Relations Director for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), calls the ads “extraordinarily harmful” to overweight kids.

“Labeling a person of any age as obese,” she said, “especially a child or adolescent — is strongly pejorative and counterproductive.”

Howell says the more often weight is talked about, the more likely teens are to adopt dangerous dieting behaviors that could lead to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, citing a 2006 study by the University of Minnesota. NAAFA, she says, supports the “Health at Every Size” practices that encourage healthy eating habits and physical activity. NAAFA, Howell says, believes the Strong4Life campaign is approaching an important issue from the wrong angle.

“NAAFA,” she said, “challenges the Georgia Children’s Health Alliance to create an advertising campaign that encourages people of all sizes to eat healthy food, add movement to our lives and celebrate our differences.”

According to Cruxent, Children’s is already promoting healthy lifestyles through free community festivals such as Strong4Life Atlanta. The “tough love” approach is just the beginning. But, she says raising awareness is the critical first step because parents often don’t see the problem. In fact, research by Children’s found that 75 percent of parents of overweight children do not recognize their child as overweight.

“Despite the magnitude of the problem, there is little acknowledgment of the crisis,” she said.

So what can parents do to help their children live healthy, happy lives?

If you think your child is overweight, consult your pediatrician, Cruxent said. But parents should always encourage healthy eating habits and active play.

(Related: Controversial Children’s Book Not Light on Controversy)


10 thoughts on “Strong4Life’s “Tough Love” Childhood Obesity Campaign Creates Controversy

  1. Michael,

    These kids should be embraced for standing tall. They get bullied anyhow, but some parents do need to wake up to the reality that their kids are fat and need THEIR HELP!

  2. How can we as a society create such ads and put them up on billboards for everyone to see? Who is “everyone”? Everyone includes the bullies that are in our schools that we look down upon because they are calling the over weight kids “chubby, chunky, stalky and fat”. How can we tell these adolescents that what they are doing is wrong, when we put the fuel on the fire by displaying the same names they are calling thier victims in schools all across the WORLD? I don’t, by any means, disagree with the purpose. We need to assist the children that are over weight, but the way that we are doing it is doing more harm than good. We should use positive words that will attract the ones that need this help and not attract the ones that will use it against the ones that do need help. It is already a hard life for over weight children. For us to allow these billboards and ads to be used is saying that it’s “ok” to allow the bullying to continue. Please, please consider this and help these children with words of encouragement…. not words that will fuel bullies meaness. Thank you.

    Michael King

    • Hi Libby,

      Children do not need a YMCA to be physically active, but they do need an Rules and an inspiration to conquer the addiction to sedentary video games.

      This is why in the cookbook Love More Feed Less chapter are included for helping parents make Rules and for “Loosing by Moving”. A child does not have to be athletic to be physically active. Parents can dance with the babies, play games with them, teach them how to dig a garden etc. The book has many ideas to help parents think of physical activities for their kids, especially for after school and while still at work!

  3. Great article!
    Let’s face it, Parents decided to bring their children into this world; it’s their responsibility to care for them.
    Children cannot and do not pay for & prepare their meals every day, their parents do.
    Children do not set the minimum level of activity they do every day, their parents do.
    Children follow the habits & lifestyle that their parents use. They do not know any other way!
    This is normally the legacy that they have been handed to their parents from generation to generation. The problem at the moment is that no one is willing to take responsibility for their own actions, it’s always someone else’s fault.
    It’s easier to do nothing, than to do anything at all!
    So let’s be responsible for our own actions, and take some responsibility for our children!
    It all starts at home!

  4. It would be nice if they used kids of all sizes to promote healtful activity. Let’s face it, unhealthy comes in every size, not just big. When will they plaster anorexic women and girls on a billboard and tell them to eat? It won’t happen because, if you are thin in the western world, you are alright, as far as we are concerned. Never to rich or too thin, right?

    This is very sad it has come to this.

    I cannot wait for Darryl Robert new film, America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments!

    Love your body and just do your best to practice healty lifestyle is what I say. Be compassionate to self and others. Love is healthy, hate is not.

  5. Peggy Howell has it right. I hate this crap. These poor kids who might see themselves on the billboards, and whose peers will likely tease them about it. It’s horrible, and I cannot imagine that those children, or maybe even their parents, understood just how those photos would be used. These kids in particular, but all fat kids are being further marginalized in the effort to ‘help’ them. I know horrible it was for my family to push me to go on diets and lose weight; having society do it, and in such public and political ways, would be damaging and in perhaps many cases, traumatising.

  6. A campaign against obesity in Atlanta seems to be much more about class, race and privilege that want to actually help children with their problems. It seems more to be “get rid of these ugly children, so we don’t have to deal with these ugly adults.”

    Stigmatizing children and dehumanizing them with unattractive unhappy images only perpetuates bullying, parental shame, and further promotes forcing fat children and parents to HIDE from their community and not participate in healthy activities.

    It is easy for a thin person with a normal metabolism to sit back and point fingers. But weight related endocrine disorders are prevalent and untreated, especially in children and teens of low income. PCOS for example, which has many negative effects including andriod weight gain is rarely diagnosed till women are in their mid-twenties even though its androgenic effects start at puberty.

    At the same time the genetic predisposition to retain weight is something scientist have ample evidence is woven into human DNA from times past.

    You can’t just unmake your genes. We have to address the metabolic and environmental conditions causing the problem, not shame the people effected by it. And ASSUMING that parents of that region all have access and money for things like weight loss programs, expensive “diet” foods, or have the time starve and monitor their children’s eating habits is just a sign of sheer classism.

    Healthy exercise and good health eating is the way to go. And does not require some insane fear campaign. That money could go to helping the schools set up better lunches or support groups for anti-bullying for bigger kids so they can feel safe and comfortable in their community.

    That is how you make kids Strong for Life and prevent suicides of depressed isolated fat children and teens who have received no medical support and are stigmatized in their community by large ugly posters.

  7. When has teaching someone to hate their body ever made a positive difference? THAT is what this campaign is doing to children.

    A Yale Rudd Center report reviewed existing research on weight stigma in children and adolescents, with attention to the nature and extent of weight bias toward obese youths and to the primary sources of stigma in their lives, including peers, educators, and parents. As a result of weight bias and discrimination, obese children suffer psychological, social, and health-related consequences. Substantial change is needed to combat this bias.

    Rebecca Puhl of the Rudd Center further brings to light the stigmatization of large children in the following article.

    The NAAFA Child Advocacy Toolkit shows how Health At Every Size® takes the focus off weight and directs it to healthful eating and enjoyable movement. It addresses the bullying, building positive self-image and eliminating stigmatization of large children. Additionally, the CATK lists resources available to parents and educators or caregivers for educational materials, curriculum and programming that is beneficial for all children. It can be found at: