One dad’s take on fat kids, #ashamed, and mommy bloggers

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.

strong4life One dad’s take on fat kids, #ashamed, and mommy bloggers

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?

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17 responses to One dad’s take on fat kids, #ashamed, and mommy bloggers

  1. I agree with ALL of it (even the part about mommy bloggers). We have a serious obesity problem and as parents and adults it is OUR fault when children are obese. Kids don’t buy the food. Kids don’t prepare the food. All they do is eat what is given to them and most often do not have a choice. People will say it’s education that is the problem, well how can we educate anyone if no one steps up and tells them there is a problem in the first place? There are people that still think because they are obese, their children are automatically obese. That’s not how it works. Children are obese because they grow up with the same unhealthy habits that their obese parents had.

    Is it bullying to show children who are abused in ads? Because it’s the same thing. If it takes educating the children or an in your face ad to wake up these stupid parents, then it’s worth it to me. Sometimes…the truth hurts.

  2. Hmm.. I’m not such a fan of this campaign, as it seems that the message is not to ‘get people talking’ but to get people shaming. Shaming people and kids doesn’t often help and can often lead to disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship to food.

    I’d like to see more campaigns like ParticipACTION that emphasize physical activity as fun and a good way to make friends and be healthy, regardless of whether or not it leads to weight loss.

  3. Talking about a problem is GOOD! No matter what (In my opinion).

    However, I am not sure that pointing out that a kid is fat is going to do anything. They know they are fat. I doubt schools have changed much in 15 years – so I am sure dealing with their weight in a social setting is constant. And kids are blunt and cruel, especially to each other.

    So, getting the kids to talk about it will be good (I think). However, it really is the parents’ job to take care of their kids. As a parent we are responsible for the health of our kids. Period. If my kid got hurt, say broke a leg, and I didn’t take him to get it fixed the state would be ALL OVER my behind. Why is this any different? I am NOT advocating taking kids from their parents. But their has to be some social and moral pressure coming from somewhere. Society isn’t doing it.

    In addition, obesity is a complex issue. There are MANY factors that contribute to it (personal and social) and dealing with all of the issues in a comprehensive manner is important. Specifically, there is a strong correlation between lack of wealth and obesity. Basically, high fat content, high caloric food is CHEAPER than quality, healthy food. Maybe that shouldn’t be the case…

  4. I agree with you 100%! Childhood obesity is a HUGE problem. I believe it’s increased over the last 30 years due to the increase of technology in households and decrease of physical activity in children. More kids are sitting on their asses playing video games and not playing outside. That’s just part of the problem, of course. Some schools are starting to shorten, if not do away with, their P.E. requirements which for some children is the only exercise they get! And of course, parents are a big problem. They’re allowing their children to not eat properly and not get the exercise they need.

    It’s sad. It’s really, really sad that parents would set their children up for the rest of their lives like that. Because that’s what their doing. For the rest of their lives those kids will have to struggle with being picked on, struggle with their weight and with other physical, emotional and medical issues. Why would any parent want to do that to their child?

    And I’m not saying that kids need to be stick thin or the picture of perfection physically. I’m saying that no child should be obese. Unless there’s a legitimate medical issue, it’s unacceptable. And no parent should sit there and watch as their child becomes obese, all the while doing nothing about it.

    Did you hear about the mom who had her 200 pound 3rd grade child taken away from her because he was obese? The story is here. http://news.yahoo.com/obese-third-grader-taken-mom-placed-foster-care-201731761.html

  5. J

    You are 100% correct. The Anti-Strong4Lifer’s have not spent their time doing anything positive. They are just trying to knock down something they do not like. Get off their butts, stop blogging, and go take your kid for a walk.

  6. One of the many reasons that I got my children into team sports was because it guaranteed that they would spend time exercising. We need a combination of exercise and diet to combat all this other crap.

    Instead we watch as schools cut physical education and parents keep their kids inside because they are afraid of their neighbors. Perfect storm is right.

  7. Cori

    I hadn’t heard of this campaign before following a tweet to your site. That campaign IS shameful. Fat does not mean unhealthy. I am healthier than most of the skinny people I know. My kid, chubby courtesy of my genes, is healthier than half his school. I would be smaller if my mother hadn’t been bullied into trying to slim me down with unhealthy “diet foods” starting when I was a fourth-grader. Lose five, gain ten. Lose ten, gain twenty. I am fat; it’s a fact. And so what? Why do you care? Why should the state of Georgia care? Fat is the last safe prejudice; if you took the word “fat” and substituted an ethnicity, or another trait of birth such as tall/short, this mean “campaign” wouldn’t last five minutes (I would hope). Stop freaking out about people’s sizes and go do something that matters. Worry about literacy. Worry about drop-out rates. Worry about economic inequity. I *am* out walking. I *am* eating grains and vegetables. My size doesn’t change and how dare you try to stigmatize me – and my kid – just because you don’t like the way we look. And that is the real truth about fat stigmatization – not some faux concern about my health.

  8. I absolutely agree. Enough dancing around the issue. It’s a big problem and it is time to make people really start owning up to it. And for all those naysayers out there, there is certainly a great necessity for programs that teach healthy eating and exercise, but those won’t do any good until people start to really see that there is a problem and decide to make a change. Anti-smoking campaigns are blunt and in-your-face. So are safe sex campaigns, breast cancer (I love tatas…save the boobies…I do it on the…). Why? Because shock value raises awareness and gets people talking. It has a proven track record of success. And like you said, teaching healthy eating and exercise (which everyone already knows) isn’t solving anything and America is getting fatter. What other choice do we have?

  9. Actually fat is unhealthy. Just because your mother did it incorrectly (again education is the key) doesn’t mean that it is wrong to be health conscious. It is possible to make healthy decisions for yourself and your children without bullying.

    And your argument about replacing fat with ethnicity or “short” doesn’t work. For example, from the ad “Chubby kids may not outlive their parents” cannot replace chubby with short, because it wouldn’t be a correct statement. Another example “Fat kids become fat adults”. If you replace fat with say, Asian “Asian kids become Asian adults” is a true statement. There is nothing prejudicial about anything in the ad.

    Also, chubby is not genetic. Parents need to stop telling themselves that and instead focus on helping their children live healthier lives than they did. I agree with you in that it is not some “faux concern about my health”, it isn’t. It’s concern for the health of children.

  10. Papa – Author

    Luke, you make a valid point about the smoking that I honestly forgot about until after the post.

    Have you seen the condemnation ads direct on smokers. It borders on defamation, but it’s ok because it’s smokers, they are losers anyway, right?

    It’s complete hypocrisy and no one seems to notice it.

    But this campaign like anything else in life doesn’t seem to pose a problem until the arrows being shot hit a little to close to home and suddenly things become ‘relative’.

    Would any of this raise an eye if instead of talking about obesity the issue was drug use, alcoholism, STD’s, or again, smoking? Of course not! Because those issues don’t normally affect 30% of our children and 50% of adults.

    There will be a follow-up to this point, thanks for the inspiration Luke!

  11. Right on, bro. People bitch about cigarette smoking. C’mon, though, should we be keeping kids from smoking, I mean, they ARE just trying to fit in, right? Think of the self-esteem blow they’ll have if we make them stop and then they’re ostracized from their peer group. Right?

    Right. Exactly. You get what I mean. To be clear: I still smoke, but I realize that it is a dipshit thing to do, that if I don’t stop soon it will kill me, and that I have no one to blame but myself.

    People talk about smokers’ health costs bringing down the system. The thing is? Smokers die early, and when you get cancer from smoking, it kills you fast. Same for heart attacks and strokes.

    But obesity in childhood leads to the kind of lifelong diseases that can be maintained, i.e. a lot more strain on the health care system.

    But that’s obviously not the only reason. Not being a heartless bastard, I DO feel for these kids, and I do care about the fact that they’re embarrassed-or should be-about how fat they are.

    I was a fat kid. I remember when I was twelve being at the pool and overhearing some kids remarking about how “that kid has tits.” I had to look around before I realized they were talking about me.

    To make matters worse, I was a wimpy fat kid, so I couldn’t go kick them in the teeth.

    What did I do? I realized that if I ever wanted to get laid, I would have to lose weight. I started exercising and dieting. I lost 30 lbs when I was fourteen years old. How did I do that? Because I got tired of being told I was fat.

    Now. I am not saying that bullying kids into losing weight is healthy. But public awareness ads are not bullying. They’re just smart.

    Great post. It needed to be said. Thanks.

  12. I agree with CM…though I usually prefer to disagree with her…and I love your POV…well done, Kyle!

  13. I watched all five videos, and this one is by far the most confronting to a parent. What I’d like to know is, where is the video about food choices in school cafeterias?

  14. Papa – Author

    Wolf, I hear the school cafeteria argument often. But here’s where I think that misses out. What has really changed in school food choices in 25 years? We can’t make the argument that it has gotten worse during that time. That at one point it was healthy and then it changed. No, over time those food choices have been consistent, and I don’t recall there being a great deal of complaining in the 70’s or even 80’s about that. So this obesity problem has gotten worse with the same school food choices. The argument about recess, etc is also invalid. Recess is usually 20 minutes (tops) every day in Elementary school not middle school. How does a lack of recess in elementary school cause a 15 year old to be overweight?

    I’m afraid that parents like to use this cafeteria food as a way to lay blame on someone else. And remember, if the food is so bad, parents always have the option to fix lunch for their kids.

    We like to say that obesity is a poor person’s problem. That is ridiculous. Walk into any school in any subdivision in any city in this county and you will find countless numbers of overweight kids. This is far more than a poor problem.

  15. Mari

    1. There is a BIG difference between fat and not skinny; we’re talking childhood obesity here, not people who naturally carry a bit more fat or muscle in a few places. While the world should allow for a wide range of beautiful bodies, it IS unhealthy to be too fat.

    2. There is so much being said about movement and exercise, but we need to also address food; processed foods, sugar addiction, unhealthy additives all contribute to childhood obesity. Kids who won’t eat fresh vegetables. But we are the parents, we make the rules and why is there even an option? Parents need to have an open dialogue with children from an early age about what food is (fuel) and what healthy food is (unprocessed) and that all sorts of treats (candy, chips, soda) is fine in moderation, and after the healthy fuel is consumed.

    Thank you so much for this provocative post.

  16. I’ve read the studies that show where overweight children are more prevalent in the poor demographic. The answer to that according to the study was because poor families could only afford to eat lower quality foods which are filled with processed sugars and bad fats. Well at one point, I was a single parent and was a VERY frugal shopper and I’m just not buying it. You can buy frozen veggies for very cheap. The store brand bags are $2 and on sale you can get them for $1. Almost always is some sort of fruit and meat on sale as well. Surely I wasn’t getting organic stuff, but who cares when we’re talking about getting a well balanced meal for a decent price. I’m in a better financial situation now so most of the veggies I buy are fresh (and organic if they’re on the dirty dozen list.)

    Also, cafeterias in most states have actually changed their food for the better. They’re decreased their fat and sodium content and increased their vegetable portions.

    Again, I think most of this is to blame on the increase in technology in households and the decrease in children playing outside and participating in sports. Of course the parents are allowing it to happen.

    I think there’s a big difference between a chubby kid and an obese kid. It’s the obese kids we really need to be worrying about. Like I said above, unless there’s a true medical condition, there’s no excuse for a child being obese.

    Christina, it has been scientifically proven that people can be genetically predisposed to be overweight. But often that is used as an excuse. There were recently 2 studies done that found people who were predisposed genetically with these fat genes could reduce the impact of the genes by exercising. However, usually, these people have also starting living sedentary lifestyles and have other issues like depression or food dependency.

    I hear the arguments that fat people are healthy and that we should accept all body styles. However, being obese puts people at risk for heart disease, diabetes, cardiovascular and musculoskeletal disorders. I’m not saying non-obese people can’t get these but being obese puts you at a greater risk. I’m not making that up, it’s been proven.

    I think that to an extent we should accept all body styles, but we shouldn’t encourage all body styles. I think when we tell someone it’s ok to accept obesity, that’s also encouraging someone to remain or become obese. It’s also not ok to encourage the opposite; these anorexic looking models we see on t.v. with every bone in their body visible through their skin practically. There’s a fine line with this, though, and I understand that. We don’t want our youth to become insecure and have eating disorders. We also don’t want them to bully other children over their weight. And I think if you are OK being an obese adult, that’s fine, but you should not be OK with your child being obese.

  17. Megan

    I found this googling and i do respect your opinion but disagree. For some, eating is comfort and when you are ashamed of yourself, you WILL eat more. Also- with bullying a problem, there is concern the ads will cause taunting for overweight children.
    Is a campaign needed? Yes! I just dont feel this is the way to go.

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