A public health initiative to combat childhood obesity in Georgia is getting what it intended: attention.
At this point, many people’s eyes glaze over when they read the three words “childhood obesity epidemic.” We all know it’s a scourge, that it’s claiming nearly 20 percent of children and adolescents according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s so bad, it’s almost become like its opposite, foreign famine. Something we know is terrible, but we believe too enormous to tackle individually.
The results are bracing.
Here are three of the campaign’s video spots:
Not surprisingly the campaign is drawing complaints. Some worry the spots and related billboards exploit the vulnerable children who star in them. Others think they will further stigmatize overweight kids. Others think the focus is all wrong — blame not the kids and parents but the larger forces that lobby for and market sedentary, nutritionally void lifestyles.
“Just wanted you to know that you’re doing a horrible thing. Fat kids shouldn’t stop being fat because they get bullied. It’s the bullies that should be stopped. You’re effectively sanctioning bullying by making the problem with the person getting bullied,” reads a comment on the campaign’s Facebook page.
State health officials created the campaign after a survey revealed that 75 percent of parents in Georgia who have an overweight or obese child do not think it’s a problem. Since the state has the second worse childhood obesity rate in the country (behind Mississippi), officials decided to create the in-your-face campaign.
“We felt like we needed a very arresting, abrupt campaign that said: ‘Hey, Georgia! Wake up. This is a problem,’” Linda Matzigkeit, a senior vice president at Children’s Healthcare, this week told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The campaign includes other less shocking components, such as a Web site with information about obesity and tips for reducing weight. It has also funded pediatrician training and a special weight reduction clinic acco
rding to the newspaper.
But it’s the videos and billboards — such as the one with the bold-faced line stretched across an obese young girl’s stomach, “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not” — that make the campaign so hard to ignore.
Is that a good thing?
Do we need to be shocked in this way to deal with childhood obesity? Or is this campaign wrenching for the wrong reasons?