Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHA) began an anti-childhood obesity campaign in Georgia earlier this year, taking the obesity epidemic head-on and, as the ad says, not sugar-coating the problem. Although there are many critics of the in-your-face approach, CHA is standing by its decision to run the ads.
Black-and-white images on billboards and television commercials have left little to the imagination regarding children and obesity. The ads make many viewers uncomfortable, but that is what they are apparently designed to do—make the viewers, particularly parents, uncomfortable enough to stop fooling themselves into thinking everything is okay with their family’s health, particularly their children’s, and, hopefully, force parents to open their eyes and take responsibility for their part in the problem. When, for example, Bobby, an overweight young boy, asks his mother pointedly, “Mom, why am I fat?” his obese mother, sitting in a chair across from him, sighs heavily and guiltily, as the commercial fades away.
The commercials and campaign are drawing mixed reviews. Some health officials believe the campaign to be counterproductive, possibly traumatizing children and attacking families who do not have the resources necessary to deal with the growing problem of obesity. Some feel that the negative images will bring additional stigma to the obese population, possibly causing some to retreat even further into denial. But, CHA disagrees.
“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, who leads the system’s wellness projects, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. CHA indicated that their research had found that 75 percent of those parents surveyed did not recognize that their child was overweight or obese; 50 percent surveyed did not recognize childhood obesity as being a problem in general. However, Georgia ranks second nationally in childhood obesity, with approximately 1 million overweight or obese children. This direct approach, CHA feels, will break that denial stage so many seem to be in at this time.
The campaign is called Strong4Life, and is intended to be a $50 million project, executed over a period of five years, and modeled after highly effective ads portraying the dangers and effects of methamphetamine use, as well as anti-smoking ads. Half of the project is being funded by CHA, and the other half is planned to be covered by donations to the campaign. In fact, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia Foundation recently donated $95,000 to the continuation of the campaign.
Although some are convinced that the ads are damaging, others think they are on the right path. One teenager in the ads, Maya Walters, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I think it’s really brave to talk about the elephant in the room. It’s very provocative and makes people uncomfortable, but it’s when people are uncomfortable that change comes.”