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!