Grim Ads on Childhood Obesity: Informative or Stigmatizing?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a grim advertising campaign, produced by a major pediatric healthcare facility, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, has provoked strong reactions. “But the pediatric health system stands firmly by its approach,” the Journal-Constitution reports, “saying the grim advertisements featuring overweight kids are necessary to get families to recognize the widespread public health problem.”

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Some public health experts, however, say the approach could be counterproductive when it comes to childhood obesity. The commercials and billboards do not give families the tools they need to attack the problem, some critics say. Others say the images will simply further stigmatize obesity and make it even less likely for parents and children to acknowledge that their weight is unhealthy and should be addressed.

Children’s Healthcare decided on the approach after finding in research that 50 percent of people surveyed did not recognize childhood obesity as a problem and 75 percent of parents with overweight or obese kids did not see their children as having a weight issue. Across Georgia, which ranks second nationally for childhood obesity, about 1 million children are overweight or obese, according to data compiled by the campaign.

“We felt like we needed a very arresting, abrupt campaign that said: ‘Hey, Georgia! Wake up. This is a problem,’ ” said Linda Matzigkeit, a senior vice president at Children’s Healthcare, who leads the system’s wellness projects.

The campaign — called Strong4Life — is planned as a $50 million project to be rolled out over five years. Children’s Healthcare has committed to paying half the costs while seeking donations to cover the rest. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia Foundation recently kicked in $95,000 to support the campaign.

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