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Small, Dying Rat —

February 27, 2012
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We’ve received our final answer from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), and they are bringing down the billboards… at some point in March.

I would like to share in the jubilation of the announcement, but I’m still not satisfied with the response. Strong4Life is trying to save face by saying that they had planned all along to end the campaign in March (you would think that if this were the case, they would have made this clear up front so that all the concerned parties would know what kind of timeline they had).

Personally, I think this is a slap in the face.

After being called out by, among others, the National Institutes of Health and Jillian Michaels, S4L has essentially said, “Don’t get your panties in a wad, we were leaving anyway.”

Did our collective action end the billboards sooner than they planned? I believe so, since they made a concerted effort the weekend after the NIH condemnation to scrub their national campaign of any mention of Phase 1 and to ban the Weighty Eight from their Facebook page and restrict the comments allowed.

To me, these were the desperate actions of a floundering organization, and evidence that we, as activists, can harness our power online and great real change in our culture. Let this moment stand as a lesson for future activists that we are no longer limited by time and space in our ability to make our presence known and felt.

I consider it a direct consequence that the fear of inciting the ire of Fat Acceptance activists and mommy bloggers has made the environment for creating shame-based advertising taboo, as evidenced by Disney’s rapid reversal on its troubling Habit Heroes exhibit at Epcot. From here on out, corporate sponsors will think twice before giving support to healthcare campaigns that aren’t focused on positive solutions, rather than finger-pointing and humiliation.

I strongly believe that the only reason that Strong4Life has lasted this long is that they have been determined to not be defeated by what they perceive as a group of fat people justifying their gluttony and sloth.

So, sadly, I am not nearly as optimistic as my friend Leah who declared victory. Rather, I would declare a stalemate. But a stalemate in the War on Fat is still huge.

Through the power of our alliance, we have drawn a line in the sand and prevented Strong4Life from continuing their shame campaign indefinitely. Where previous healthcare organizations had essentially carte blanche in fighting the War on Fat, CHOA’s check has bounced, and they have had to completely reconfigure their campaign to prevent a massive fallout.

As an unintended side effect, CHOA has tried to actually cite their claims (for better or worse), create an ad that shames adults instead of children and warns against the dangers of uncontrolled time travel.

And although I said I would blog until every last billboard comes down, I feel as though I have my contributions to this campaign have almost run their course.

Almost…

Over the coming days, I will be winding down my efforts with a few final posts on the campaign that I would be remiss to keep to myself. These final posts will include some rather damning information about Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Strong4Life campaign.

On January 19, I emailed Ron Frieson, Chairman of Strong4Life, and told him that I was a doctor in Southwest Missouri who wanted to donate $10,000 to S4L and bring a similar campaign to my home town. Frieson put me in touch with Lucy Klausner, Director of Development and Strategic Partnerships, and after speaking with her on February 3, she arranged for me to speak with Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director of CHOA.

While speaking with Stephanie, she recommended that I speak with Tim Whitehead, Vice President of Marketing and Communications. After I spoke with Tim, I requested an interview with Frieson himself.

Thanks to the one-party consent recording laws in my state and the state of Georgia, I recorded all three conversations, although I got the distinct impression that all three were aware of my nefarious plot. After my interview with Frieson in which he said he would said me a copy of their research, I followed up and received an email from Walsh indicating that she was aware of my identity.

The main reason I’m certain they knew in advance is that when speaking with Walsh, she asked me questions about my work as a doctor which I have neither the experience nor acting skill to fake. Relistening to myself trying to sound clinical has to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought the same thing.

My theory is that Walsh and Co. wanted to play along with my ruse, and knowing my identity, they could guardedly speak on the subject matter without fear of a candid comment causing even more chaos for them.

The problem is that in the course of a half-hour conversation it is difficult to keep your natural inclinations and opinions from creeping into the discussion. So, you could tell when I asked a question, their response was carefully measured and each word chosen to reflect their public messaging.

On the surface, Dr. Stephanie Walsh sounds like a compassionate, understanding physician who wants to help fat children get healthy. And, to be fair, that may be exactly what kind of person she is. But in her attempt to portray CHOA as a healthcare clinic first, and a weight loss adviser only under special circumstances, she contradicts S4L’s chairman, Frieson, who openly shares how successful and popular their weight loss clinic is.

And in an attempt to illustrate his point that their ads are beneficial even if they prevent people from seeking treatment, Tim Whitehead says what could be the worst thing that anyone from CHOA could possibly say. And if my theory is correct, and Whitehead knew of my identity in advance, then you can actually hear him realize that he has just said something so incredibly horrible that he begins to stammer and stumble. Veronica and I listened to this clip about ten times, laughing our asses off that in one brief, shining moment, Whitehead revealed his true opinion of fat people — and he knew it.

And Frieson… well, I would compare Ron Frieson’s role as the head of an anti-obesity organization to that of Michael Steele heading the RNC. Frieson’s interview is a trainwreck, and he easily undoes all of the carefully-considered comments of his colleagues, contradicting them multiple times. Considering Frieson is the one who missed Meredith Vieria’s hint that appearing to target children is probably not a good idea, this interview will come as no surprise to anyone.

I spent this past weekend editing the calls and creating a video response for each of the interviews. I’m still working on them, and they are a much bigger undertaking than I had anticipated, so it may take a bit longer than I had hoped. But they are coming. And just to allay your fears, although I have edited the calls, I am attempting to do so in such a way that leaves even the most egregious comments within their context so I cannot be accused of manipulating their comments.

And I will state up front that I am willing to release full copies of the phone calls so that others may listen to the full context.

In the meantime, I have a few other items I’m going to share in the coming days.

For instance, tomorrow I will be sharing excerpts from an interview I had with Dr. Rick Kilmer, Clinical Director for the Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders (ACE).

Although Tim Whitehead maintains that they have been monitoring the mental health of the children of Georgia through two (2) market research studies (neither of which are available to the public), he admits that they never contacted ACE, or any other ED clinic in Georgia, to find out if the ads had an impact on their patients. But in fairness, Whitehead reassured me, none of the clinics had called him either.

Of course, he’s completely ignoring the outcry from the National Eating Disorders Association, Binge Eating Disorder AssociationAcademy of Eating Disorders, and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals. But as you’ll hear in the interview, CHOA only takes the advice of those within Georgia seriously.

In any case, Dr. Kilmer explains to me in details why this campaign is so dangerous, and how it has affected their patients. As a result of this campaign, Dr. Kilmer anticipates a strong possibility of long-term psychological damage to many of Georgia’s youth.

So, although we have reached the end of our activism, I am not yet done with CHOA and their leadership. I hope that in tying these few remaining loose ends, we can illustrate exactly what kind of dysfunctional rationalization can lead to such a campaign, and how we can prevent future incidents of shame and stigmatization.

I am so proud of everyone who has contributed to our campaign and has poured their heart and soul into defending the children of Georgia. This has been a great moment for Fat Acceptance especially. We are often derided and scoffed at because of the ignorance and assumptions of those who have already decided who we are and what we are all about.

By taking on CHOA and Strong4Life, we have sent a message to the world that we will not tolerate the hatred and bigotry any more. Our response to Strong4Life was a defensive action, an attempt to protect vulnerable children from the harmful words of a $50 million bully. But after celebrating this hard-fought battle, we will be back, and this time we will be on the offensive, bringing the issues to the public and making our voices heard on the issues that matter the most to us.

You cannot make public health decisions without consulting the people whose health you wish to affect. We are no longer the unwilling draftees in the War on Fat; we will fight this battle as the rebel underdogs who have nothing but truth and community on our side, and nothing to lose but our dignity and self-worth.

They cannot shame us any longer, and we will make certain of that.

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