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The Exorcist —

February 9, 2012

The power of OAC compels you!

The power of Dan Savage compels you!

The power of NEDA compels you!

The power of Kaiser Permanente compels you!

And now… the power of the NIH compels you!

That’s right, after writing to three divisions of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I received the following response on from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) on January 25:

As a federal agency, the NICHD and its employees are prohibited from endorsing or condemning a specific private health care provider or person, organization or facility, or campaign or product. This prohibition includes issuing a statement for or against a campaign or product.

I asked the representative if they could issue a statement condemning the use of stigma and shame against fat children in public health campaigns. She responded:

While I can fully appreciate your perspective, and while I personally share your feelings that stigma and shame are not useful or effective ways to encourage change, the Institute cannot make a statement either way. There is neither authority nor precedent for it to do so. [emphasis mine]

Since then, I hadn’t thought about it. Government agencies don’t comment on private health care providers. It makes sense. It’s sound policy. I let it go.

Yesterday, I received an email from the NIH which has absolutely floored me. Dr. Alan Guttmacher, Director of the NICHD, sent me an official statement, on letterhead and everything, not only condemning shame and stigma, but calling out Strong4Life by name.

Check it out!

Dear Ms. Russell: [ed. note: Stop giggling]

Thank you for writing to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concerning the Strong4Life campaign that targets overweight children in an effort to curb childhood obesity…

I agree with you that this campaign carries a great risk of increasing stigma for those children who are overweight or obese which, in turn, can reinforce unhealthy behaviors (e.g., overeating). A number of research studies over the last decade have supported this concern. For example, studies suggest that overweight children who are teased about their appearance are more likely to binge eat or use unhealthy weight-control practices, and weight-based victimization has been correlated with lower levels of physical activity. Not surprisingly, stigmatization of obese individuals, particularly adolescents, poses risks to their psychological health.

Other studies show that the perception that obesity is solely a matter of personal responsibility, as opposed to understanding the complexity of contributing factors, can increase negative stereotypes of overweight people. It is important, therefore, that public messages about obesity address this complexity whenever possible.

Bear in mind the comment from the previous emails: this is an unprecedented condemnation by the NIH of a private healthcare organization’s public health campaign. When the NIH begins bending rules to send a message that you are harming children, it’s time to listen.

Plus, in the near future, First Lady Michelle Obama will be answer this question from Angela Black, a Georgia native who has seen the damage done by this campaign first hand. There’s always the chance that the FLOTUS will say, “Well, we have to do something,” but given the coalition of forces who have taken a stand against this shameful ad campaign, I seriously doubt it.

And this is just the beginning. We are only getting louder and we will not stop until every single billboard comes down and Phase 1 of the ad campaign ends.

In the meantime, we still need your help to wrap up our fundraiser. We are just 98 donors short of unlocking the $5,000 More of Me to Love Match. So please donate your Solidarity Dollar today and help us end our Phase 1 of our billboard campaign.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    February 9, 2012 9:59 am

    Shannon, this is just totally awesome! For them to come out against CHOA’s billboard campaign, in writing to you, is a ground-breaking occurrence. You totally rock!

  2. February 9, 2012 11:26 am

    Shannon, I mentioned to Ragen that I felt this wonderful activism you are spearheading calling out the stigma and bullying of the Strong4Life feels like it could be a new watershed moment in the Fat Acceptance movement and I feel like with this proclamation from the NIH we are there. I am so proud to support you and Ragen and FFF. I think a road trip to atlanta to celebrate with you and the team is in my future!

    • February 9, 2012 11:34 am

      Thanks Ivan. I’d love to do it, but I’m in St. Louis. 🙂


  3. February 9, 2012 12:03 pm

    Far effin’ out Ms Russell!!!! Really amazing response!

  4. February 9, 2012 12:04 pm

    Tee hee!
    Just kidding. I’m always getting mistaken for a guy on the phone because I have a husky voice. It can be frustrating but I usually laugh.
    I will be able to contribute tomorrow when I get my pittance–I mean, salary.

  5. Duckie Graham permalink
    February 9, 2012 1:24 pm

    I got the same letter back from NIH…but with my name in it 🙂 (and I wasn’t called Mr.!)


  6. Bronwen permalink
    February 9, 2012 3:21 pm

    You. Guys. ROCK!!!

  7. bridie permalink
    February 9, 2012 9:51 pm

    Yes all of this is true. What ii would like to see is more health care provider education on how to talk to kids about weight issues . Its tough enuf in school and on FB … start by reinforcing positive behaviors and not usiing terms tht are loaded. Dont prescribe exercise … talk about being activ

  8. Laura Jennings permalink
    February 10, 2012 4:50 pm

    Way to go, guys! 🙂

  9. HAEScoach permalink
    February 11, 2012 8:50 am

    Congratulations, well done you for taking the initiative. It’s a wonderful result and I think is hopefully a turning point. For me personally it is incredibly powerful and helpful to creating more awareness and countering the potential for something as bad as or worse here in Australia. Thank you again.

  10. Jenn Graves permalink
    April 3, 2012 12:44 pm

    Do you know if the NICHD published this anywhere or publicly stated their position anywhere? I want to include this in something I’m writing, but I’d like to cite something more scholarly than a blog if possible.

    • April 3, 2012 1:05 pm

      What do you mean? How is an allusion to the Exorcist not scholarly enough? 😉

      I included a link to the PDF in this post, but you could cite the BBC article that published excerpts, then refer back to the PDF. But I do not believe the NICHD published this on their site anywhere.



  1. The Georgia Billboard Project Reached Its Goal!
  2. Killing the Childhood Obesity Messengers, Part 2 | Healthy Weight Management & A Business Opportunity

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