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Greased Pig —

February 23, 2012

Yesterday, we talked about how Strong4Life has been flailing about looking for statistics that are just as ominous as their bullshit 75% statistic. They found one, but after examining the research on which it was based, the “80% of obese children become obese adults” stat just isn’t that impressive when you realize that just 8% of obese adults were obese children.

This reality makes me wonder… if 92% of obese people weren’t obese kids, then why are we focusing so much time, money and energy on making sure that obese kids feel terrible about themselves and parents of obese children feel terrified of every morsel they put into their child’s mouth?

But that’s exactly what Strong4Life wants us to do, as evidenced by their latest video (seriously, don’t watch it unless you’re emotionally equipped to handle a barrage of fatty stereotypes condensed into 1:41 minutes).

The gist is this: the video starts with a fatty being rolled in on a stretcher, his shirt smeared with chicken grease and offal. We get glimpses from his perspective, including one where two members of the medical team hover over him, discussing the situation:

Man: Alright, what do we got?

Woman: Just came in. Heart attack. 5’9″, 300 pounds, 32 years old.

Man: How the hell does that happen?

The man shines a light in the fatty’s eye and we’re whisked away to a montage of scenes from the fatty’s perspective, flashing back through his life in reverse and highlighting those moments when he made terrible fatty decisions that would ultimately lead to his death.

The thing that’s interesting to me about this commercial is that although it features childhood obesity prominently, they do not show a fat child. Instead, the focus is on the two groups: first, the choices of the fatty through his own perspective and second, the choices of his parents.

Now, part of me can’t help but feel like this commercial is the response from the medical team at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta that I’ve been waiting for since the January 13 email I received from external communications director, Kevin McClelland.

On January 5, in my very first post criticizing Strong4Life, I said in a comment:

Strong4Life says the campaign is aimed at parents. If do [sic], then why not have a billboard featuring a parent carrying a greasy bag of fast food? I have issues with that approach as well, but it’s better than shaming kids. [emphasis mine]

I said similar comments on the Strong4Life Facebook page, but they’ve long since been deleted. Is this their response? Now they have turned the camera away from the kids and onto the mother who, in this ad, is stuffing french fries into her baby’s face like Dick Cheney at a paper shredder.

Another clue as to this being CHOA’s response to my criticisms is that, as I pointed out in yesterday’s post, they have included a citation with their shock statistic, something they have previously avoided and something that I have been hammering S4L for since the beginning.

Again, I can’t help but feel like my writing influenced the inclusion of this information.

But my most narcissistic thought about how this new ad was influenced by my writing is the similarity between the dying fatty and myself. He’s 5’9″, 300 pounds, while I’m 5’7″, 265 pounds (which I included in several posts on Facebook). He’s 32, I’m 32.

I realize all of this is probably coincidence, but at the same time I’m guessing it’s not great stretch of the imagination to say that some people at CHOA have probably fantasized about me keeling over. But, again, that’s just my narcissism talking.

But aside from my concerns that CHOA may have created a voodoo ad in an attempt to kill me, there’s something quite sinister about this ad.

You’ll recall that Strong4Life chairman, Ron Frieson, gave an interview to The Today Show in May 2011, which I covered in this post. In that interview, Frieson took great pains to point out that Phase 1, the awareness phase, was only temporary, and that the real thrust of their campaign was providing solid solutions to the “obesity crisis”:

And as we go forward with this campaign, the ads that are to follow are directed more at healthy eating and kids encouraging their parents to get involved.

The second part of the campaign we call Activate, so you’ll see Maya and you’ll see the rest of her counterparts become much more active, extremely happy about their journey to become more healthy. [emphasis mine]

The Activate phase, Phase 2, was finally released on January 23, an hour after I posted my video which includes footage from the Activate ads that they already had on hand during the May Today Show interview.

Although the ads were released onto YouTube, Strong4Life did not issue a press release or revamp their website to reflect these full color videos. They only changed their website on Monday, February 13, after I issued the condemnation from the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, February 9.

Let’s get some perspective on these videos.

The original “Why Am I Fat?” video generated nearly 300,000 views since it launched in August 2011. The “Stop the Cycle” video launched on February 14, just nine days ago, and already has 65,000 views. Both videos have been supported with a full court press media campaign by CHOA.

The three full color ads (1, 2, 3), which have not received mention in the press from CHOA, has a combined 1,344 viewers since January 23.

The devil’s advocate in me says, “But perhaps the Phase 1 ads didn’t raise enough awareness, so they took down the ads that target fat children and replaced it with an ad that addresses your criticisms, while at the same time continuing to raise awareness.”

Fair enough. Perhaps Strong4Life can provide us some evidence that the Phase 1 ads failed to raise enough awareness. Let’s check out that press release again, shall we?

Preliminary research shows the ads have sparked conversation about the medical crisis, and the reaction to the ads has been primarily positive… The dialogue has been spurred by increased awareness in childhood obesity as a serious problem — 96 percent of parents surveyed see childhood obesity as a serious problem in the state of Georgia, up from 73 percent before the campaign began last fall. [emphasis mine]

Wait just a fucked up second… they tell us that Phase 1 raised the awareness of amount of parents who see childhood obesity as a serious problem from 73% to 96%? But originally, Strong4Life told people one of three things:

  1. “Our research showed that 75% parents w/overweight or obese children didn’t know there was an issue.”
  2. “Our research showed that 75% of parents of overweight or obese children did not recognize their child was obese.”
  3. “Before our campaign, our research showed that 75% of parents of overweight/obese kids don’t recognize/aren’t aware of the issue.”

How can 75% of parents of overweight and obese kids be completely oblivious to the issues, and yet 73% of parents agree that childhood obesity is a “serious problem”? And if 96% of parents now recognize childhood obesity as a serious problem, wouldn’t that imply that the majority of parents of overweight or obese kids do as well?

Dr. Richard Lutz, JC Penney Professor of Marketing at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration, who I’m guessing is responsible for CHOA’s research, tries to explain:

“A noteworthy finding in Children’s research is that while 96 percent of respondents viewed childhood obesity as a somewhat or very serious problem, only 28 percent of parents of an obese child considered their child overweight or obese, and only 36 percent were concerned about their child’s weight.”

Again, I want to know how they got these statistics. Did they ask parents if their child was obese, then actually weigh the child? Also, I find it pathetic that they are focusing on whether parents can identify the obesity status of their child, when, as I pointed out in this post, a recent survey of pediatricians and nurse practitioners found that “only 26% knew the definition of childhood obesity and 9% knew of its prevalence.”

More parents of obese children are aware of their child’s obesity status than pediatricians know the definition of obesity.

And yet, CHOA presents these statistics as justification for waging another media war, this time on mothers.

Middle-class mothers are the target audience in this latest video. Although we see the father ordering a deep dish pizza, it’s the mother who repeatedly takes her son to the drive-thru, it’s the mother who gives fatty a treadmill so he can exercise while watching TV, it’s the mother who stuffs french fries into his face, it’s the mother who gives him sugared beverages.

And while I understand that mothers are often the gate-keepers of nutrition, I find this kind of shaming of mothers just as disturbing as the shaming of children.

Mothers are stretched so thin these days thanks to the two-income trap, yet they are still expected to prepare and serve fresh, healthy meals every day, regardless of how many hours they’ve worked or commuted or cleaned or cared for their children.

The modern reality is that parents don’t have much time and they rely on convenience foods to feed their family. And while there are ways to help frazzled families feed their children healthy meals, you certainly aren’t going to win any converts by shaming them for not being Carol Brady or June Cleaver.

Rather than following through on their promise to provide solutions to parents who are already stretched-thin, CHOA has decided to use shame and guilt to punish parents who literally do not have the kind of time that fresh, whole meals require in terms of preparation, cooking and cleaning up.

Although Strong4Life’s new message avoids shaming children, they are still relying on stigma to drive home their message without providing a single, rational solution for busy families. When you go to Strong4Life’s Get Started page and click Eat Fresh, they include a total of three tips:

Whole fruits and vegetables are better choices than juice for your family because they include fiber and other benefits that juice lacks.

Make fruits and vegetables fun! Try dressing up sandwiches with faces and smiles made from fruits and vegetables.

Frozen vegetables and fruits can be just as healthy as fresh produce. If you need to buy canned vegetables, make sure to choose the low sodium variety.

Notice that they don’t suggest that parents cut back on soda consumption (it may help that Coca-Cola donated over $145,000 to CHOA).

Strong4Life says they will follow up shaming ads with solutions, but their solutions aren’t anything a busy parent hasn’t already heard.

I guess what we have to take away from this is that Strong4Life doesn’t have any solutions for childhood obesity in their bag of tricks. All they have is shame and stigma.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    February 23, 2012 1:40 pm

    Can I be Carol Brady? She had Alice and I sure as hell could use a maid/cook (and I’m betting there are a lot of mothers out there who could as well).
    CHOA isn’t interested in anything realistic to improve the health of anyone, all they’re interested in is shaming and bullying fat people and driving all of them into their programs for weight loss that supposedly will improve the poor fatties health (and thereby fatten CHOA’s bottom line [puns fully intended]).

  2. February 23, 2012 3:13 pm

    That ad was just disgusting. S4L sickens me more with every approach they take.

  3. Kala permalink
    February 23, 2012 4:48 pm

    There are absolutely malnutrition issues from fast and other convenience food. But those issues have nothing to do with weight. Childhood obesity, for some but obviously not all, can be a symptom for both underlying health problems as well as lifestyle issues. But as we know for many things, not all people share the same symptoms. So why would you treat a symptom, that doesn’t manifest itself in everyone, instead of treating the actual problem?

    Some of their stereotypes were just WTF. The treadmill in front of a TV? What’s wrong with a treadmill in front of a TV? I live in a place where it sits between 20F and 35F during the day in the winter, forget about the the morning or evening or night. Should everyone run or walk outside? I can tell you that it’s pretty uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure many gyms (including mine) shove their treadmills and ellipticals in front of TVs as well. And that’s because running on a treadmill can be really fucking boring. Would it have been better if they took the fat kid’s treadmill and placed it in the laundry room with nothing to look at?

    • Len permalink
      February 23, 2012 8:40 pm

      Yes, yes Kala I agree utterly. I watched that ad while I ate my lunch: veg risotto left over from dinner, and an orange. A pretty normal meal for me, perfectly nutritious and I’m perfectly fat.

      On the weekend I hauled my fat self around the markets to buy all those vegetables. Last night I prepared the risotto with my fat hands. I peeled and ate that orange with my fat fingers (and got the juice all over my fat body, because I’m a grot).

      Through a quirk of fate it is actually cheaper and more time-efficient for me to shop for fresh produce once a week and then cook all my own meals (yes, I’m very, very fortunate). And I literally don’t have time to go eating fast foods. I haven’t tasted Macca’s for decades.

      I can only represent myself but here you go – living proof it is possible to be fat and not live on fast food.

      (Miraculously I managed to finish my orange even though the ad made me want to throw up a little bit.)

      I also don’t get the implied judgement with the gift of a treadmill to use in front of the telly. I’d LOVE a treadmill to jog on while watching telly! There is a lot of pollen and grass out there and I get seasonal asthma when I jog outdoors and sometimes I wheeze just like that bloke on the ad. (And every time I do of course people assume it’s my fatness that’s causing it, although it’s entirely unrelated.) It’s a privilege to be enabled to exercise and it’s a privilege to afford a telly – I just don’t get what that part was trying to say.

  4. Len permalink
    February 23, 2012 7:58 pm

    Shannon, I don’t think it’s narcissistic to assume this excellently-researched and well- considered campaign is having some impact!

    I’m proud on behalf of all of us and grateful to you and all the other intelligent, literate people who are pushing this campaign.


  5. LittleBigGirl permalink
    February 24, 2012 11:15 am

    Here’s the problem I have with the whole “junk food = fat people” thing: When I was in grade school (about 20 *mumble* yrs ago), we had pizza, burgers, chips, and chocolate milk for hot lunch about every day of the week. There was a boy in my class who would order 4-6 slices of pizza and he was skinny as a rail. I ordered 2-3 pieces and I was fat. Now I didn’t do sports because the negative competition and focus on supposed skill over fun made me miserable, and 6-slice boy was on the soccer team. This suggests that either a) metabolism and genetics might just have something to do with weight regardless of food choices or exercise level and/or b) what you eat supposedly doesn’t matter as long as you exercise enough to counteract any calories your body doesn’t need (this is the bs that is at the core of a ton of diet fads, a lot of fitness crazes and what a lot of new years resolutions fall prey to – ‘Eat whatever you want and still lose weight!’). Actually my grade school class would have made an interesting test group for the whole fat kids = fat adults thing: We all ate the same crap and I was actually the only kid who was considered fat; but I am willing to bet just about every kid would show up at a reunion with a few extra pounds.
    Neither theory encourages nutrition or positive physical activity. What we eat and how much we eat obviously impacts our health, but it all goes wrong/logic or problem-solving out the window when we make health synonymous with weight.

  6. February 25, 2012 10:05 am

    Don’t sugarcoat it, Georgia — you have made a fatty pseudo-snuff film.


  7. Lillian permalink
    February 25, 2012 11:20 am

    Getting the gaming systems wrong shows their laziness. I don’t play those games but I could see the error and it made me laugh at the ad. Making those mistakes takes from the message: in this case, that is a good thing. People might not know what is wrong with the ad, but they know something is. It doesn’t feel right. It’s like seeing a record player in the Victorian era or matches during the American revolution. For a little effort, they could have got it right. It’s not even hard to find kitchens decorated in the fashion of the eighties and nineties. Mine hasn’t been updated in fifteen years. Many older people have the same kitchen as they did twenty, thirty years ago. Older cars are also easy to find. They had no excuse to get it wrong. The mother not getting older is much harder problem to fix.

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