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Are health ads targeting 'fat kids' too much?

  • Health officials want kids and parent to 'stop sugar-coating' the obesity epidemic
  • One obesity alliance condemns ads that 'promote negative stigma'
  • Georgia has the second-highest rate of childhood obesity in the nation
Are health ads targeting 'fat kids' too much?

An in-your-face ad campaign aimed at ending Georgia's childhood obesity epidemic is hitting some nerves. Some of the controversial ads are almost hard to watch, and people are reacting strongly.

The ads are part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta's "Strong4Life" campaign. They feature children and family members speaking frankly about being fat.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution says Children’s Healthcare wanted to create a no-nonsense approach after their research found that 50 percent of people surveyed didn't recognize childhood obesity as a problem and 75 percent of parents with overweight or obese kids did not see their children as having a weight issue.

So do the ads deliver a much-needed dose of straight talk to parents and kids about a serious health problem? Or is shaming kids and parents just piling it on for folks who are already hurting?

In one ad, little Bobby sits down face-to-face with his clearly obese mom and asks her poignantly, "Mom, why am I fat?"

In another, a mom tries to rationalize her daughter's weight problem away. “Being thick runs in our family,” she says. "As her mom I never noticed Tamika eating any differently than the rest of us. She likes junk food, but what kid doesn’t? When the doctor said she had Type 2 diabetes, I never thought what we eat made her sick. I just always thought she was thick like her mama.”

Stark taglines are black-and-white clear. "Stop sugar-coating it, Georgia." Another rings all too true for anyone whose struggled with with weight issues: “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid.”

An executive for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta says the strong words, and their support programs, can help save lives.

"We needed something that was more arresting and in your face than some of the flowery campaigns out there," said Linda Matzigkeit, senior vice president of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, told ABC News.

"If we do not wake up, this will be disastrous for our state," Matzigkeit told ABC. Georgia currently has the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the nation.

But does the campaign amount to bullying?

The messages have been condemned by the Obesity Action Coalition, which wrote a strongly worded statement decrying the campaign for ideas that “greatly promote the negative stigma, weight bias and bullying often associated with obesity and childhood obesity.”

“While we agree with the Georgia Children’s Health Alliance that a need for increased awareness centered on childhood obesity is great, we absolutely condemn the imagery, content and focus of the campaign,” the group said in a statement.

On the Facebook page for the "Strong4Life" campaign some have called the advertisements insensitive. Preston S. wrote:

Let's start a campaign that singles out ALL people unemployed. Because everyone that is unemployed is lazy and its their fault. It has nothing to do with factors outside of their control. Just like being overweight and obese has nothing to do with heredity or socio economic status. Let's have real pictures of unemployed people with ‘I am worthless’ or ‘I am just a lazy piece of crap’. Sounds like it would work.

The tough-love approach has its fans too. Teowai R. wrote:

I think this is a great campaign. Its aimed at parents. They have to face the reality that what they feed their kids is affecting more than just their appetite.

Do you think the ads cross the line? Or do you think too many people really are "sugarcoating" the problem? Have you struggled, or watched a child you love struggle, with being overweight?

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