Healthy Messaging Gone Wrong

In recent news, Strong 4 Life, a campaign created by the non-profit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, shed light on childhood obesity. Many parents across the US became upset because it aimed to utilize shame as a catalyst for change. Atlanta has the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the United States and the campaign was an attempt to bring this problem to the attention of Georgia parents in a very blunt way. The ads, which were designed in consultation with a local hospital, have been labeled as “fat-shaming” to “wake-up” parents of obese children.

The ads however, had more negative effects than positive. The billboards and videos in the campaign feature overweight children talking about the social and physical issues that obesity causes.


“Our intention was to get people talking about childhood obesity and we did that. We can’t do this alone; it’s going to take a whole community of physicians, parents and caregivers to solve the problem,” Matzigkeit said, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s senior vice president.

Above, you can see that the ads are degrading and can cause emotional distress in children. It can lead to low self-esteem and even eating disorders because of the self-hate inflicted by these ads. One mommy blogger, Jessica Gottlieb believes the opposite.

“I don’t believe for a single solitary second that an ad campaign will make these children feel ashamed for being overweight. I believe with all my heart that the fat that’s covering these children’s bodies might make them ashamed. It should be noted that the fat covering their bodies also makes them ill and it’s much easier to die of diabetes or heart disease than of shame.”

Really Ms. Gottlieb? I’ll continue…This ad campaign was so focused on shaming and placing the blame on the parents of children, that it forgot to assess and address the other causes of obesity. It is simplistic to assume that obesity is a product of eating too much or eating unhealthy. It can also be that parents are unaware that their child is obese, do not know how to create a proper diet or encourage exercise. Although they are working on correcting the problem, Mommy bloggers and health-based communities united on Twitter in late January to petition the @Strong_4_Life Campaign and the State of Georgia to cease this campaign and find alternative messaging. The #Ashamed effort garnered over 23 MILLION impressions on twitter within ONE HOUR the first day.

As a public relations student particularly interested in health communications, the fact that this campaign was even produced in shocking. What could have possibly made anyone think that this was a good idea? Research is the first step that needs to be taken in any campaign and clearly the research focused on the problem itself and not on how is should be communicated. Furthermore, the campaign only focused on the problem without any active solutions. It was a slap in the face to Georgia parents saying, “Here is the the problem. It is real. It exists. Now figure out how to fix it.” Again, it neglected to think of the consequences and take into account that obesity is not only physical, but an emotional and socio-economic one as well, but that is for another post.

Sorry for the long post readers, this is something I really care about. Please share your thoughts!



4 thoughts on “Healthy Messaging Gone Wrong

  1. I don’t see anything wrong with the ad. To make the overall campaign more effective, Strong 4 Life should add a call to action, telling parents to: talk with their child’s doctor to see if he/she is obese; add more veggies and protein to meals and take out heavy starches and carbohydrates; suggest ways to make sure their children are getting enough exercise.

    People have become so soft. A little “real talk” never hurt anyone; Strong 4 Life just needs to add solutions to the problem its calling out to make the campaign more effective.

    • You certainly make a good point Brittnee! I agree that the campaign could have been effective if there was some call to action or offering of solutions. The way it was originally introduced it was seen as offensive. I can sympathize with those who struggle with body image issues. The tone was necessary but the message could have been altered. The good thing is that the campaign succeeded in being a wake-up call and creating awareness about the issue.

  2. Amy says:

    The children are not the problem. They are a result of lazy parenting, poor nutrition education and schools eliminating physical education and cutting back recesses. Those who came up with the idea want to tell us that obesity in children is their own fault and that showing them these fat characters will encourage them to eat only healthy food. The truth is, however, that obesity is not the child’s fault but the result of the parent’s inability to give them the care they need. Today’s parents are so busy that they rarely find time to be with their children. They all too often neglect the fact that children need to interact and cooperate with others in order to develop healthy relationships later in life. The natural result then can really be the child’s inability to manage stress which may finally lead to problems such as obesity or other diseases. That’s why I always tried to find some new activities to encourage the natural development of my chiIdren and visited as many baby-centers in Toronto as possible when my children were born. I discovered a number of funny ways to build a strong relationship and I always try to spend as much of my free time as possible with them to avoid similar problems in their adolescence.

    • Amy, thank you for your comment. I agree that children are not the problem and should definitely not be the victims of these campaigns. Organizations like the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization should make it their priority to not only tell parents what they are doing wrong, but offer solutions. You have certainly offered some tangible solutions in your comment and I hope that more parents think like you in regards to the health and well-being of their children. Health is not only diet and exercise, it is also creating and maintaining positive relationships and managing stress well. Kudos to you!

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