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Finish Him —

February 10, 2012

Today I’m leaving work early to take the eight hour round trip to pick up my son for the weekend, so I will be unable to answer questions as diligently, or thoroughly, as yesterday. But rest assured I will respond over the weekend. Today’s post will be a mish-mash of updates, so bear with my scatterbrainness.

Yesterday’s whirlwind of activity spawned by the BBC story on our efforts to bring down the billboards in Georgia has brought an incredible diversity of opinions on the issue of weight and health to our comments, and I totally welcome that. I believe the only way to discover the truth is to unleash a cacophony of opinions, and gradually tease out the tone deaf arguments and baseless assumptions until we are left with a harmony of relative consensus.

What I have seen is that regardless of what you believe the reasons for obesity to be, the majority of people are in agreement that stigmatizing children is not the way to address the root causes. Earlier, I wrote about how in times like these, when the welfare of children is threatened by well-meaning ignorance, that I will take any ally I can in the fight. These unnatural allies may not be ideal, but when our mission is simple and our goal is singular, then it is time to set aside our differences, if temporarily, to achieve the desired outcome.

In this case, we are fighting to bring down the billboards in Georgia and to ensure that this “awareness” strategy will never be used against children again.

One way we are responding to the Strong4Life billboards is by raising money to erect a billboard of our own; one that celebrates the diversity of bodies and the joy of being fit and active. As Ragen says, it’s pretty difficult to hate yourself healthy.

On February 2, we launched our Big, Fat Moneybomb and raised over $12,000 in 24 hours for our billboard. Since then, we’ve raised a total of $15,500 on our main fundraising site, while we have raised an untold number of Solidarity Dollars through our PayPal account (since GoFundMe does not accept donations of less than $5).

On top of this, we still have the $5,000 More of Me to Love Match, which has two criteria: raise $5,000 (done!) and reach 1,000 donors.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, as of last night we are 56 donors away from our goal, and I know that we can finish our fundraiser today. So if you want to help us unlock an additional $5,000 in funding for our billboard campaign, please either donate a Solidarity Dollar (just one dollar, that’s all we ask), or if you wish to give more, there’s our main donation page. Either way, please help us make today the last day of our fundraising.

Now, onto to mish-mash…Yesterday, in an unprecedented move, the National Institutes of Health, the leading American authority on contemporary medical research, issued a, shall we say, hearty rebuke of Strong4Life’s shame campaign.

With that letter, Strong4Life has lost much of their rationale for ignoring the outcry of those who have been telling them that this campaign is doing more harm than good. Previously, Strong4Life has responded by citing their “market research,” which shows that their ads aren’t harming kids. As in this comment thread, they have said:

We have seen no evidence that these ads are harming kids. Among other indicators of success, our doctors tell us they are having better conversations in their offices with families… While the message in the ads may seem harsh, this method has proven successful in other public awareness campaigns, such as the Meth Project and anti-tobacco (Truth) campaign. We would never want kids to feel badly about themselves, but we are more heartbroken about the potential health consequences facing overweight or obese children and that is what we concentrate on in this community.

The ads are subjective, and the opinions of the critics of our approach so far are just that — opinions. We will not invest in lengthy arguments about it, nor will we entertain your idea that one can be healthy and overweight or obese. Medically speaking, it’s not true.

The “evidence” they are citing is the market research they say they have been conducting to monitor the psychological effects of the ads. Yet they have not released this market research to the public, or the research that underpins their claim that 3/4 of Georgians aren’t aware of the crisis (tomorrow will be ONE MONTH since they said they were “collecting bkgrd” on the research that they have used throughout this campaign).

So, essentially, we are told to trust them, that there is no proof that stigmatization harms and that they are monitoring the community for psychological damage.

This has been their stance all along, but until now it has been their response to a collection of healthcare professionals, bloggers and activists who have been speaking out. The NIH, on the other hand, is a totally different ball game. The NIH is the epicenter of medical research and they are aware of what the literature says about the effects of stigma and shame, as Dr. Guttmacher pointed out in his letter (PDF).

Surely Strong4Life can’t continue to ignore the evidence that their approach is harmful, right? They have to give the opinions of the NIH greater weight than that of the general rabble, right?

If that seems pretty common sensical to you, then you’re be sorely mistaken. From their Facebook response to the NIH:

We appreciate everyone’s perspective on this crisis – especially the NIH – because it is going to take incredible momentum to solve this crisis – much more than a short series of ads. In Georgia we know there is a disconnect between the reality of our childhood obesity crisis and the personal acknowledgment of the associated health risks. The discomfort people have with these ads is further evidence of this.

While our critics presume to know the effects our ads will have on families and kids in Georgia, our physicians see the true effects of childhood obesity in our clinics every single day. The reality is that nearly 40 percent of kids ages 10-17 in Georgia are overweight or obese and have an increased chance of suffering from serious illnesses like fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes. [emphasis mine]

These ads are accomplishing their objective: raising the dialogue on childhood obesity. But Strong4Life is much more than just an ad campaign; it is a movement that involves the entire community, delivering programs and creating partnerships. We needed the ads to spark the conversation around this issue. Awareness and intent to change are only the first steps in the fight against childhood obesity. People have to take personal responsibility.

Allow me to translate the carefully crafted PR-speak using the Babel Fish PR to English function:

Oh those rapscallions at the NIH… they think they know so much, what with their reams and reams of data on the negative psychological and physical consequences of obesity, but they are oblivious to the dangers of obesity! Our doctors know the true story, that unless we bludgeon children and parents with a perpetual assault of Vague Future Health Threats and fat jokes, then we the future will be lost. The ONLY way to save the children is through humiliation and shame, so trust us. We know what we’re doing.

Except this isn’t the only option. There are successful programs that encourage healthy eating and exercise for children of all sizes throughout the country. None of resorted to these kinds of extreme tactics, so what makes Strong4Life so special that they can ignore the growing coalition of voices telling them that shaming fat kids is a terrible idea?

And keep in mind, this “awareness” campaign has been going on for NINE MONTHS. If parents aren’t aware of this subject by now, what are the odds that continuing it will increase awareness?

I believe the answer lies in their gelatinous definition of “abuse.” For them, abusive language and abusive behavior is acceptable in the pursuit of a greater good. The risk of driving young people to unhealthy eating practices, if not outright eating disorders, is acceptable if it reduces the level of obesity in Georgia.

Likewise, the oversight on Strong4Life’s Facebook page gives us a glimpse into this questionable rationale. On January 11, early in our campaign against S4L, I was booted from their Facebook page, which I documented with screen caps of my offending comments. At the time, S4L posted the following comment on their FB page which explained why I was banned:

Okay, so “no swearing, threats, harassment, vulgarity or anything else that debases the purpose of this community or our staff.” You can judge for yourself whether I violated those rules.

Later, I went back using my friends and family FB account and have been responding to their medical claims with research and data (all of which they will not accept because fat is ALWAYS bad, regardless of what the research says). Of course, there are defenders of Strong4Life there as well. Most are relatively respectful (if woefully misinformed) in their disagreements, but the other day I received a comment that was beyond the pale. I’m just posting the most offensive parts of the comment, but you can read the full comment  within this thread

Judge for yourself whether this comment violates the guidelines used to justify my expulsion:

I’m going to be brutally blunt: SHUT UP! I, like many other here are sick & tired of listening to your crap about how ‘BULLYING’ is the cause of obese children! Get over it! Studies & numbers from statistic can be altered/doctored in any way to benefit those who want to make a point. The facts are this though: Fat/Obese children are for the most part, medical conditions aside, the product of today’s society in which a seditary lifestyle coupled with junk food has resulted in this epidemic. You don’t want to believe the facts, fine, go back to your couch, open up a box of Hosten Twinkies & wash ’em down with a 2L bottle of soda! You know what … how do you both know what this advertising campaign will do to the kids? Kids follow examples set by their parents! I said it before, I’ll say it again, drop the kids from the bill boards & put up parents .. change the campaign around: ‘Kids, is this what you Really want to Look Like in 10 – 15 years?’ … now if you two along with your friends would get off the couch (as Wendy says) & start exercising .. 10 – 15 min. to start … slowly work it up to 30/45 minutes a day .. eat healthy food .. it’s a major serious lifestyle change, I can guarantee you will love youself for it & your body & organs, well, they will rejoice.

That’s just a small, rancid sample of how some of Strong4Life’s supporters have been responding to us in recent days. So, I asked S4L if they would adhere to their standards and remove the disrespectful, condescending, vulgar comment. Their response?

We walk a fine line managing conversation about such a sensitive topic, which is why we wrote rules of engagement and check it regularly to make sure it’s not overly vague or punitory. Shannon, you were banned early on as Atchka Fatty because you posted the names and numbers of our staff and encouraged a good deal of hate calls – that’s harassment and a very clear violation of our rules. You came back as yourself (Shannon Russell) and while you have hounded people and come very close to crossing many lines, we have allowed the discussion to proceed despite the fact it is about the ads instead of the medical issue. As the managers of this community, we would like to remind everyone to please remember your filter and participate in the conversation in a way that is courteous towards others. From now on, we will be asking those we think are being rude to repost their comments in a more polite manner. Thank you for respecting our community and continuing the conversation.

So, abusive comments are not allowed toward Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), the organization running Strong4Life, but abusive comments toward their critics is. Likewise, despite what the NIH says, there is no evidence that billboards stigmatizing fat children have any negative long-term effects. Meanwhile, S4L has their own research that says the result of their campaign is nothing but sunshine and roses, yet they will not allow the public to see it. Got it?

For the record, I was unaware of the fact that I was previously expelled for encouraging people to call the people responsible for this campaign. I never encouraged hate calls, but I did encourage, but I did suggest that people tell Strong4Life exactly tell them exactly what they think of the ads.

Now, maybe I should have encouraged people to be respectful, but in my rush to respond to a perceived crisis, I created an awareness campaign that had unintended consequences. And since none of the targets of my campaign ever called me to complain about the abuse they were receiving, I had seen no evidence that this phone-in campaign was harming Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the organization responsible for Strong4Life. Furthermore, while our critics presume to know the effects our phone calls will have on administration and staff of CHOA, our fatties see the true effects of stigmatization in our lives every single day.

For now, let’s just say that that we felt we needed to send a strong message to raise awareness of a serious issue.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2012 11:40 am

    what is interesting to me is that even their own supporter- abusive as he was- is actually agreeing with us about the ads at least:”… I said it before, I’ll say it again, drop the kids from the bill boards & put up parents .. change the campaign around…”

  2. vesta44 permalink
    February 10, 2012 11:59 am

    “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” CHOA and S4L refuse to see the damage they’re causing because in their minds, the ends justify the means. Ethics – dey haz nun.

  3. Catgal permalink
    February 10, 2012 2:00 pm

    No one reads what we are saying. No one ever said that Bullying causes obesity in children! We said, bullying obese children is not going to help them be un-obese.


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