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Three-Quarter Turn —

January 9, 2012
by

Strong4Life continues to rationalize its bullying campaign in Georgia by appealing to health concerns, as well as the absurd claim that parents aren’t aware that childhood obesity is an issue. This former claim is substantiated by a statistic that Strong4Life repeatedly throws out that 75% of parents aren’t aware of the issue.

This 75% statistic is frequently cited as “our research,” which suggests that Children’s Hospital of Atlanta (CHOA) has had some kind of study to determine how many parents are unaware of the “problem” of childhood obesity. Except when you go to Strong4Life’s website under “Learn About Childhood Obesity,” the 75% statistic is cited yet again, but no source is given.

There, they tell us that “75% of parents in Georgia who have overweight or obese children do not recognize the problem.”

But what does that mean? Does that mean that 75% of parents know their child is obese, but refuse to do anything? Does that mean that 75% of parents deny that obesity is a problem? Does that mean that 75% of parents have no idea that there’s a War on Fat to be waged?

Strong4Life has responded to a few of my tweets, but when I requested that they back up their 75% claim, they refused to respond.

And yet, they continue to throw out the 75% stat, albeit inconsistently.

First, they made this claim in response to a complaint:

Next, they threw out another 75% statistic, but with a different conclusion:

Finally, they returned to their first claim, that 75% of parents are clueless:

Whoever is running Strong4Life’s Twitter page is playing fast and loose with their statistics. Not only that, but they are couching this as “research,” but no research results are available to the public. I would like to take a look at this “research” and see exactly what they found because they sure as hell don’t seem to understand it.

Then, on Friday, something amazing happened. The Reverend Emily C. Heath, who you should follow today, began commenting on Strong4Life.

Rev. Heath actually worked with CHOA and finds the current campaign despicable as well. She believes the real problem that she saw at CHOA was bullying and eating disorders, but Strong4Life responded by saying, “But there lots of fatties too!”

But how many? How many kids are treated for “obesity-related diseases” versus self-harm due to bullying or eating disorders? Which is the bigger immediate problem?

But something I found strange about Strong4Life’s response was its reference to “obesity-related diseases.” Although metabolic syndrome is related to disease, it is more often related to insulin resistance, not obesity.

Thin kids can get type 2 diabetes, but if it’s called an “obesity-related disease” their parents might be unaware of the possibility that their child could develop it as well. So, I did some quick research to see if any studies commented on the correlation between these “obesity-related diseases” and obesity vs. insulin resistance, and I presented it to Strong4Life to get their comment. In it, I refer to NASH, which is short for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or non-alcoholic fatty liver syndrome, which is correlated with obesity.

So, how does Strong4Life respond to complaints that their awareness campaign might reduce the awareness of parents with thinner children that metabolic diseases can affect them as well? They send me to their “fact page” for childhood obesity.

You can read the research on NASH here and the statistics on kids with type 2 diabetes here.

This week, we will be looking at these “facts” in greater depth. Strong4Life is attempting to justify their hateful campaign through health concerns, but they aren’t concerned about the potentially negative impact that publicly stigmatizing fat children can have.

Please continue calling and writing to CHOA and telling them exactly what you think of this campaign. And please share this information with someone you know who will be just as outraged as you are. We must keep up the pressure if we are to see an end to this disgusting campaign.

Kevin McClelland
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
404-785-7600
kevin.mcclelland@choa.org

Stephanie Walsh
404-778-2400
stephanie.walsh@choa.org

Children’s Foundation
1687 Tullie Circle NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
404-785-GIVE
Fax: 404-785-7355
choagiving@choa.org

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Kala permalink
    January 9, 2012 11:06 am

    I’d be really surprised if anyone manning the program’s twitter page is an actual health care professional, so I’m not sure what challenging them to an intellectual twitter debate is really going to do. They aren’t researchers, aren’t medical professionals, aren’t necessarily responsible for claims being made as factual, and in the end this is their day job and not something I’d wager they care deeply about. Perhaps with PR pressure they’ll pull the campaign, which would be nice, but I think we could do better than that.

    Somewhere behind the PR people, has to be someone (or some group) that has provided the meat of the content for the campaign. I think it would be pertinent to see if we can find out who that person or group is, and engage them in a discussion. I can only imagine that there was some impetus behind the campaign that came from a real medical concern, some spike in some sort of health issue that obesity has been correlated to, or shown causative to. Shaming them and their PR team into removing their campaign doesn’t in the end fulfill their goal of making what could very well be an important message more public, but perhaps they (maybe with help) could craft a campaign that addresses the problem in a non-shaming way, with health instead of weight being the focus.

    • January 9, 2012 2:48 pm

      Kala,
      I understand that the Twitter person may not be a doctor, but they are providing the public voice to this campaign. I agree that whoever developed the idea for the campaign is tucked away inside CHOA, and I will do my best to find out who that is, but unless you or anyone has better information, we have to address the people that we have the ability to contact. And I was simply responding to their claims that this campaign is due to the obesity-related diseases. Well, if they’re going to tell me that, then I think it’s perfectly fair to ask why they are referring to them as obesity-related diseases rather than metabolic syndrome or one of the other terms typically used to describe this constellation of diseases.

      To be honest, I’m not that worried about helping them craft a better program now. What I want is for the “attention getting” portion of the campaign to end so that fat children will not have to look at those horrible billboards any more. Once that ends, then I would be happy to talk to someone about the rest of the program. But for now, we just want the abuse to end. And that means taking on the public face of CHOA directly.

      Peace,
      Shannon

      • Kala permalink
        January 9, 2012 6:05 pm

        I don’t have an issue with asking the pertinent questions in a public forum to get attention to the problem, to expressing dislike. And in the end you are all autonomous individuals that can do as you please. But all the cursing and bitterness reflects poorly on the person doing it, including you and your multitude of angry tweets. For example, I think Ragen manages to get her messages across in a really authoritative way, and I think more people pay attention to messages delivered that way. Her messages aren’t free from snark or distaste, but they don’t go completely overboard either. When you’re not even remotely professional about it, you give someone a real reason to ignore you. And for people who are maybe unaware of the issue, or undecided on the matter, I think the behavior is more likely to drive them away than to get them thinking.

        As I said, you can do whatever you please, but I think you shine as an advocate and as a writer when you eloquently put together your opinions and thoughts on issues and weave them together with research or examples as best as you are able to. As a recent example, your takedown of George Takei was done really well. But if you paired that Takei takedown with a 30 tweet long pissing matching with him or his proxy, I think that would really have taken something away from your message.

        • January 9, 2012 8:23 pm

          Kala,
          I understand what you’re saying, and I would normally agree, but this situation is unique, in my opinion. They are attacking children. What they have stirred up is not the typical fatty anger. This is an anger that many of us feel deeply because it dredges up memories of bullying in school, only now it’s a hospital with a multi-million dollar budget behind the harsh words.

          I don’t think vesta’s email was even all that terribly profane. The worst she does is tell that until he finds a way to make fat people thin, he should enjoy a nice cup of STFU. Kevin McClelland is serving as the voice of CHOA and it is his job to both listen to complaints as well as respond on behalf of the organization. Presumably, it is his office that is coordinating the Twitter response as well. They have all of the tools and personnel at their disposal to provide us with legitimate answers to legitimate questions, and so far they are responding as though they couldn’t possibly understand how anyone would be offended by the campaign… that it’s directed at parents, so that’s all that matters.

          I will have a post tomorrow about an article I read in which the Vice President of CHOA says regarding the ads, “‎It has to be harsh. If it’s not, nobody’s going to listen.” I feel the same way. Our response has to be harsh or they aren’t going to listen. They want controversy. They want attention. They don’t care if they hurt children or drive the stigma deeper. I’m not advocating violence or threats against their well being, but dammit, a good, solid “Fuck you” is sometimes exactly what is called for.

          Don’t feel sorry for McClelland. You can guarantee he’s getting paid handsomely for his position as mouthpiece for CHOA. It just happens that at this moment in its history, he’s going to have to work a bit harder.

          I encourage everyone to respond how they feel called, but do not spare harsh language or angry tones in hopes that they will compromise out of respect for our decency. I’m sorry, but when somebody attacks my child, I’m not going to be thinking about tact and manners, I’m thinking of the best way to tell this asshole not to fuck with my family again. And I feel the same way about a company aiming its deep budget at humiliating and degrading all children.

          Peace,
          Shannon

  2. January 9, 2012 12:37 pm

    why is it that mental health is so rarely included in the big picture when people are supposedly so invested in our children’s health? Last time I checked, bullying and stigmatization leads to depression. Depression is NOT healthy. Simplistic yes.

    • Kala permalink
      January 9, 2012 1:28 pm

      It seems to me at least, that these kinds of ads are modeled off of the stop smoking ads. I can think of quite a few that are in black and white, stark photographs, that were confrontational in nature. These ads, in tandem with other initiatives, helped put the health risks of smoking to the forefront of more people’s minds. For whatever reason, people who copy these ads don’t seem to consider that self esteem has been intertwined with weight in our culture, and that seeing these ads induce a different sort of emotion and response than you might see with a stop smoking because it kills type of ad. I doubt they consult with mental health professionals on it, but they should.

  3. vesta44 permalink
    January 9, 2012 4:43 pm

    Shannon, I said yesterday “Want to bet that if you wrote to them wanting to know how many parents were polled, what their answers were, and what the BMIs of their children were compared to their answers, CHOA couldn’t/ wouldn’t tell you – because that poll, in all probability, doesn’t exist?”. From what you posted today of your Twitter conversation with them, I’m even more sure that there is no poll from which they’re getting their statistic of ‘75% of parents don’t know their kids are fat’. If I recall correctly, one of the many FA/SA blogs I read referenced that number once upon a time, but I’ll be damned if I can remember which blog it was or when it was (I’ve slept at least once since then, and it has to have been at least 6 months ago that I read that post). It could have even been an article on MedPage Today, I’ll have to do a search and see if it was there that I read it (I’ll get back to you on that). I don’t think it was a formal poll of parents, per se, I think it was a poll of doctors – pediatricians were asked if parents of their patients knew their kids were ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ and pediatricians responded that most parents said no, their kids weren’t overweight or obese according to whatever standard was being applied (and I think it was the percentile standard you cited, not BMI), but the pediatricians said the kids were ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’.

    • January 9, 2012 4:59 pm

      Very interesting Vesta. We’re pushing for the actual study. If they’re quoting an informal study as proof that this kind of campaign is deserved, then that is complete and utter bullshit. We’ll get to the bottom of it.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  4. vesta44 permalink
    January 9, 2012 5:56 pm

    Ok, I found out where they got that 75%. They surveyed parents in 2 towns in Georgia, and 75% of the parents surveyed didn’t think their kids were fat (“obese” was the term they used) and 50% didn’t think childhood obesity was a problem. The articles referencing their “study” can be found here and here. Good luck on finding out which two towns were polled, how the data was collected, and what the demographics were for the people who were polled.

    • January 9, 2012 8:29 pm

      Excellent work, vesta. Thanks for digging this up. It helps a ton.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  5. Leila Haddad permalink
    January 10, 2012 4:42 am

    hello all. I have been sitting on the sidelines reading, watching, cringing… listening to NPR’s shameless defense of this wretched ad campaign as they are under the financial thumb of the RWJ Foundation.. And I have this to add to the conversation. Observation only mind you, but I am well read and form my opinions from a broad spectrum of experiences. The issue that CHOA really needs to confront is the nutricional defecits in the diet off all children and adults for that matter in the US. Because as educated as we appear to be about BMI and what is obesity ect ect…we are still woefully ignorant of what constitutes as food. Because of my profession and as a life long “foodie” I am in the markets alot. And yes I do observe what people buy. I make my living following food trends. Through lobbying and relentless disinformation big Agra has been allowed to dump valueless garbage on the American public under the guise as” food stuff” for decades now and our population is suffering for it. What if the ad campaign was redirected at the parents of children of all sizes with the message being what they feed their children? All people need to be properly nourished. Health issues effect all children of all sizes. Processed food effects all people’s dietary needs adversely if it is the bulk of what they’re eating. Instead of blaming parents and shaming children, why not focus on shaming the Food manufacturers for their lies and disinformation? I

    • January 10, 2012 8:16 am

      Hi Leila,
      Thanks for commenting. I think beginning ‘controversial’ ad campaign that targets the should industry is a thousand times more reasonable than this campaign targeting children.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  6. January 10, 2012 10:25 am

    The biggest “obesity related disease” that these poor kids face is bullying and belittling, not only from peers but from so called adult “experts.”

  7. Jackie permalink
    February 12, 2012 4:53 pm

    Seems like whoever is running or responding on Strong4Life’s Twitter, is a mook who just parrots whatever the higher ups have told them to say. It’s incredibly arrogant to respond to someone’s concerns, with self-serving “facts”, and acting as if the person with genuine concerns doesn’t exsist

  8. Robert Wright permalink
    March 19, 2012 1:43 pm

    Your attempts to turn the focus from obesity, likely a symptom but not a cause of metabolic syndrome, to the metabolic disorder itself is admirable and definitely needed as I’m sure the vast majority of Americans have no idea that the primary cause of most of the chronic diseases associated with obesity (type 2 diabetes, CHD, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc.) are simply effects of, along with obesity, chronic insulin resistance.

    However, at least based on this 2009 analysis by the CDC using 2003-2006 NHANES data, it would appear that those with central obesity are at a much greater risk of suffering from insulin resistance than those without central obesity (between 17 and 32 times more likely to have metabolic syndrome for females and males, respectively).

    This is likely why CHOA is pushing for chlidhood obesity awareness though I agree with you-they’ve oversimplified the science immensely and done, I think, a disservice to the public by not educating them about insulin resistance.

    FYI, refined carbohydrates and sugars are very likely the primary driver of insulin resistance in those who are “carbohydrate intolerant” so CHOA should directly focus on these foodstuffs instead of continuing to push the usual “calories-in, calories-out” message that has been so counterproductive at reducing the incidence and prevalence of insulin resistance.

    Read Gary Taube’s “Why We Get Fat” or “Good Calories, Bad Calories” if you’re curious about the carbohydrate hypothesis.

    Ervin, R. Bethene. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Health Statistics Report. (May 5, 2009). “Prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome Among Adults 20 Years of Age and Over, by Sex, Age, Race and Ethnicity, and Body Mass Index: United States, 2003–2006.” Number 13. Retrived from: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr013.pdf .

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