Georgia's Aggressive Anti-Obesity Campaign Draws Media Fire

A new ad campaign aimed at raising awareness and encouraging prevention of an obesity epidemic that affects nearly 4o percent of Georgia's children is the source of a debate over when anti-obesity messages go too far. The campaign, which launched this summer at the hospital Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, features captions like "It's Hard to Be a Little Girl if You're Not" and "Chubby Kids May Not Outlive Their Parents."

The hospital is, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, responding to survey research that shows 50 percent of Georgia's population doesn't recognize obesity as a problem, and 75 percent of parents of overweight or obese kids don't believe their children have weight problems.

"This campaign is an example of what not to do in obesity prevention," said Yale University obesity researcher Rebecca Puhl in an interview with the Today show, adding that it "perpetuates prejudice toward childhood toward children who are affected by obesity and already vulnerable to pervasive teasing and bullying because of their weight." This, she said, makes them more likely to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors and avoidance of physical activity.

Children's Healthcare said they were spurred to launch the campaign after the latest statistics revealed that one million children in Georgia -- nearly 40 percent of the state's children -- are overweight or obese, and that three-quarters of parents with overweight kids don't see their kids as overweight. In a press release, the hospital called the ads a "tough love" approach.

But some parents are outraged, judging by recent comments on the campaign's Facebook page. "Horrible!" said one 42-year-old mother who wrote her 6-year-old is "taller and thicker than average" and gets teased all the time. "You have no idea obviously of the damage this will do with the ad. You will hurt more than you help." Other posters called the campaign a form of bullying.

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