I live in Georgia. I have kids. These two facts provide me the necessary credentials for what I’m about to weigh in on.
The current issue of childhood obesity is a perfect storm thirty years in the making. Since 1980 obesity rates in teens have increased by a startling 300% and it’s estimated that children who are obese at the age of six have a 70% chance of being so for life. The reasons for obesity in children and adults are well known, as are its cures. In 2008 over one third of all children were overweight or obese and that’s just the national numbers. My home state is ranked #2 in the country for childhood obesity with 40% being overweight, that’s almost 3.0 million kids.
To bring heightened awareness to this alarming crisis, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) one of the nation’s leading pediatric hospitals launched a media campaign designed as they put it, “to get people talking”. Based on past attempts by other local and national organizations to address the problem, CHOA’s Strong4Life campaign is controversial for some and uncomfortable for others. Their approach is different than anything attempted before – speak directly into the lives of the children themselves in a language they and hopefully their parents can understand. CHOA conducted 16 focus groups and phone interviews with 2300 parents and children 8-15 years of age in the development of their print and television campaign. Their ultimate goal is simple; give Georgia what it needs the most – a massive wake up call.
Their media blitz was piloted in two medium sized cities within my state. The resulting conversations were passionate and polarizing but the messages achieved the desired objective – people indeed were talking about this important topic. Yet even amidst feedback, 68% of those asked were in favor of the methods and strategies implemented. And for Strong4Life, this was reason enough to take the message statewide on numerous roadside billboards, television ads, and print media.
The campaign uses kids speaking candidly, somberly, and directly about their personal challenges related to being overweight or obese. Predominately through the use of six 30-second commercials the viewer quickly grasps the message being sent. In one clip, a boy of roughly ten sits face-to-face with an overweight woman in a dimly lit room and meekly asks “Mom, why am I fat?” the woman exhales, lowers her head in silence then immediately the screen goes to the statistic “75% of Georgia parents with overweight kids don’t recognize the problem.” One of the many print ads shows this same boy in a stern pose with a caption underneath reading:
“WARNING – Big bones didn’t make me this way, big meals did.”
It’s an edgy in-your-face message that will put people outside their comfort zone. Its aim is to make you feel uneasy. And it works.
Enter the ubiquitous let’s-save-everyone-I’ve-got-nothing-better-to-do mommy blogger. This type of mom blogger has made it her life’s mission to show everyone how good of a mother she really is which includes taking up any number of causes aimed at “protecting our children”. Usually operating in packs, like the hyena, they arrogantly use any amount of notoriety they may possess as a bully pulpit to denounce anyone or anything sharing a different point of view than their own. Generally this is done through the modus operandi – tweeting us to death.
After several of these moms, none of whom appear to live in Georgia, caught wind of the campaign and billboard images, a few “influential” ones determined the ads to be excessively “offensive”, “harmful to children”, “demeaning to kids and parents”, with some even referring to the messages as “bullying”. Like mother hens protecting their chicks, they immediately decided something must be done so in a sign of maternal solidarity a Twitter chat was arranged using the hashtag #ashamed, and last Friday night a purported 544 people housewives convened on-line for an hour to give CHOA and Strong4Life the collective finger.
The end result was the organization’s agreement to include several of the moms in phase 2 of the campaign.
I’ve dealt with people in business for almost 20 years. Here’s one thing I know, sometimes you can tickle them with a feather to get them moving other times you have to drop an anvil on their head. Invariably they don’t like the tough love at first, but afterwards they always appreciate the kick in the teeth. This is never the preferred choice but quite often it’s the only choice.
We have been talking about America’s weight problem for over thirty years; does anyone remember “Pinch an Inch” – that was 1979? There’ve been nationwide educational programs designed to bring awareness to proper nutrition, schools are plastered with cute cartoon vegetables talking about healthy eating habits, every chain restaurant now publicizes the nutritional information of their menu, and there is even a President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Is there anyone left who hasn’t gotten this message? Is there a soul who does not understand that soda, cake, and candy is unhealthy? Can anyone say they don’t grasp that a sedentary lifestyle and diet of processed foods are two key ingredients for health and weight problems? Countless hours and dollars have been spent in an effort to educate, motivate, and entice communities to take the necessary steps towards healthier lifestyle choices– and where has all of it gotten us? Can we point to any legitimate progress, on a national level, that supports these efforts were remotely successful? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. We’ve used the feather for three decades it’s time for something stronger.
Did anyone stop to consider for a moment why these kids were used in the campaign? Up until now the message has been directed almost entirely towards the parents, it’s obvious they aren’t listening. So if mom and dad won’t pay attention and take action what is the alternative? Do we simply ignore the problem saying if the parents don’t care why should we? Do we continue down our current path of tiptoeing around the issue and candy-coating the message all for the sake of someone else’s feelings? Or do we finally come to grips with the fact we have serious problems that require serious solutions and begin looking at radical measures?
I don’t argue that these ads are provocative they make us squirm in our seats, feel uncomfortable, force us to look at ourselves – but when did that become such a bad thing? Where does it say that growth and personal change are supposed to be easy and nice? Maybe it’s time we start feeling a bit rattled, maybe we need to be a less sensitive and a more realistic with ourselves. The road to hell is always paved with good intentions and where is our current path taking us? Do we want to look back in twenty years and question why we didn’t do more when we had the chance, didn’t take a few more risks, or think more outside the box? Or would we rather be that generation of parents who failed because we chose, above all else, to protect our children’s self-esteem over their future?