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Might Have Been —

March 12, 2012

This week, I’m preparing the second in my Involuntary Affidavit series (watch the first with Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) here).

This episode will feature my conversation with Tim Whitehead, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for CHOA. On March 27, Whitehead will be receive the 2012 Catalyst Award from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) for the NIH-condemned Strong4Life ad campaign.

The IABC will recognize Whitehead’s leadership in developing the ad campaign:

The issue of childhood obesity has many stakeholders and many cultural and medical nuances, and for Whitehead’s leadership of this major initiative, he is being recognized by IABC/Atlanta as the 2012 winner of the Catalyst Award.  In an era where resources are tight and the communications landscape is increasingly cluttered and complex, this award for being a master of change highlights a central achievement in our profession.

But before I release the second interview, I want to share what I have been learning what has taken place behind the scenes of CHOA’s advertising strategy. Namely, at the three production houses which have collaborated with Whitehead to develop the ads you’ve seen, and a few you haven’t.

Last week I spoke with CHOA’s account representative with Clear Channel Communications’ billboard division, which is handles the billboard campaign we are attempting to end. As I mentioned on Monday, the rumors I heard about a new set of Phase 1 billboards going up was false.

I did learn, however, that CHOA had contracted Clear Channel from January through May, but they are altering the content of the billboards this week. To me, this suggests that our campaign did indeed work. Why else would they hire Three, a PR and advertising firm, to create an all new set of billboards for the remaining two months?

I spent a week attempting to contact the woman responsible for this new billboard campaign to no avail. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t dug up some interesting nuggets on Three’s previous collaborations with CHOA and Strong4Life.

On their portfolio page, Three lists Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta among their clients. Their work includes advertising and videos for the disease treatment facilities of CHOA, as well as what appears to be a speculative ad campaign for Strong4Life.

In my conversations with Whitehead, he mentions that their team developed alternative ads that were both harsher and gentler than the shame and blame campaign they finally decided on (and I bet that, like me, you’re wondering what the hell those “harsher” ads were).

Well, the Three ads appear to be from the gentler side, although they still engage in some fat shaming:

This last one bothers me the most because 70% of teenage girls and 40% of teenage boys have stretch marks. While weight gain can cause some stretch marks, according to pediatrician Dr. Blair Hammond, adolescent stretch marks aren’t always caused by weight:

They are caused by the stress of stretching skin, which releases substances that damage proteins in the skin, and are often seen during adolescents’ growth spurts, in women who are pregnant, and in overweight individuals. Stretch marks can also be caused either by steroid medications taken orally or by strong steroids used topically on the skin. Occasionally they are caused when the body makes abnormally large amounts of steroids, in a condition known as Cushing’s syndrome.

Plus, the completely normal effect of pubescent weight gain can also contribute to stretch marks. And if 70% of teenage girls, who are already self-conscious about their developing bodies, associate stretch marks with obesity, as this ad encourages them to do, then they are putting even more kids at risk for developing eating disorders.

And how about instead of teach kids to play as if their lives depended on it, why don’t we teach them that playing is fun and healthy and joyful? When we turn “play” into a workout, rather than the expression of innate freedom and imagination of all children, we end up with scenarios like the one I recently witnessed at a local park:

[W]e were at the park a few months back when another family arrived: a mother, a grandfather, and two children (a boy and girl). The boy was chubby, the girl was not, and the grandfather kept encouraging the boy to run laps around the playground. He had a stopwatch in his hand and was encouraging him to beat his best time.

Now, I’m no expert in child psychology, but doesn’t it seem sort of cruel to bring a child to a playground and then make him run laps?

What are the odds that this boy will grow up learning to love the natural joy that movement brings to our bodies? What are the odds that this boy will grow up associating “play” with running laps?

This is why protecting our children from well-intentioned, but misguided advertising campaigns is so vital. Perhaps the general message implied is that exercise keeps you healthy for life, but the way people internalize this message is that if you don’t force your children to play they will die.

Three also created a video spot to correspond with these print ads, and apart from the call to fight childhood obesity, it’s rather tame (sorry, can’t embed).

When you compare this video to the “Why am I fat?” or “Stop the Cycle” videos that CHOA ultimately went with, and you’ll begin to wonder what might have been.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    March 12, 2012 1:41 pm

    These are all milder than what CHOA/S4L finally went with, I’ll admit that, but they still put the focus on obesity and ending it as the way to health instead of the behaviors themselves as the way to improving health – big difference between the two paradigms, even if those examples aren’t as nasty as the ones they’re actually using. They’re still conflating weight with health and don’t care how many kids they’re hurting while they do so (because they don’t see shaming/blaming/bullying as harmful actions when it comes to fat kids/adults).

  2. LittleBigGirl permalink
    March 12, 2012 2:05 pm

    The stretch marks things really really upsets me. I am still self-conscious about mine. I got them from the weight I gained when I was struggling with an ED. I consider them to be my “battle scars”. They are a bigger barrier to my physical self-esteem than my actual fat. 😦

    The thing about making kids run laps at the park makes me think of grade school PE – we had to “run the mile” which translated to about 10 times around the block. I was always last and teased for it – it did not encourage me to be healthy/exercise/lose weight, it just made me hate running and hate PE and hate myself. I would be really curious how many adults who actually run for fun and do marathons etc. fell in love with it or had their positive relationship with running fostered in school. I think about 7 out of 10 things kids are forced to do when they are growing up are things they will avoid/never do again when they get older because they were forced to do them/shamed for not doing them instead of positively encouraged to find them on their own. Why do we keep forgetting the concept of reverse psychology?

    I also think that it is stupid to not show fat kids exercising if that’s what you want them to do – if they don’t see themselves represented then they assume they can’t do what the thin kids in the ads are doing…I would love to see more energy in the FA/SA movement put into counterads that can ‘fight’ the negative ones – the hardest thing about all the exposure to media I have to endure in a day is not seeing myself represented unless it’s in a “Before” pic or as a headless blob (or in a tv show where someone being fat is a plot point *SIGH*). Where are the happy fatties? We aren’t circus freaks and we aren’t a minority even though we get treated like it. If we’re so big, how do people manage to keep shoving our collective cellulite into the closet (barring the times they want to take us out and parade us around to scare people into dieting)?

    • Jackie permalink
      March 12, 2012 10:07 pm

      I also always was last for the mile in high school. I kept getting winded or having stitches in my side, so I couldn’t run because of the pain. The teacher would make the class wait for me, so I’d be humiliated and the others would be late for class. I learned that activity was painful, and only amounted to suffering. They should either have gym class where students aren’t singled out, or not have gym class at all. Teaching children that exercising amounts to torture, will only make them avoid it.

      Apparently they can find fat kids when they want to do shame based advertising, but suddenly they can’t when it comes to positive advertising. Since you know, telling fat kids that they can’t exercise until their thin, yeah that’s real motivation there. Hopefully with the activism regarding Strong4Life they’ll be made to understand, that you are supposed to encourage ALL kids to exercise, and that exercise isn’t about suffering.

      I honestly don’t see how people who sit in an office, thinking about how they can “inspire” fat children to become thin by telling them fat is bad and thin is good, can say they care about fat children, or children in general. This is what the anti-fat acceptance people don’t understand. When you are saying bullying and humiliating any child, will do them good, you have become a child abuser. Abuse isn’t just physical, it’s also emotional. Children only think in black and white, seems Strong4Life and CHOA don’t care how many children develop eating disorders from their campaign, only that those children will DIE thin.

  3. March 12, 2012 4:49 pm

    I find a problem with the first one because it implies that obesity is such an immediate danger to one’s life. Nevermind getting cancer, getting obesity is the killer. Please.

  4. Kala permalink
    March 12, 2012 7:21 pm

    Stretch marks, seriously? I got stretch marks as a teenager for growing wide-ass hips and muscular tree trunk thighs. I wasn’t stereotypically thin but I was a long distance runner and could do a mile under 7 minutes with no issue. What’s next, a cellulite ad targeting children? The most dramatic case of cellulite I’ve ever seen was on a thin girl, an athlete at that.

  5. Mulberry permalink
    March 12, 2012 9:30 pm

    If exercise made you feel better than food, they would hold funerals in gymnasiums.

    I’ve never gotten a high from exercise anywhere near that pleasant feeling I’ve gotten from a well-prepared chocolate fondue with plenty of fruit and cake bits to dip.

    Maybe I should’ve included a trigger warning specifically for trolls so they won’t kill themselves by falling over each other to quote the above statement as 1) a confesssion by a fat person that she likes food, and 2) “proof” that this attitude is shared by all fat people everywhere and explains the obesity epidemic completely.

    • LittleBigGirl permalink
      March 12, 2012 11:32 pm

      Dancing makes me happy but I don’t think of it as “exercise”, which thanks to shows like The Biggest Loser I have come to define as “punishing physical activity designed to raise your heart rate and (theoretically) ‘burn’ calories in the pursuit of (temporary) weight-loss”.

      My brother made chicken pot pie the other day. It was one of the most physically and emotionally nourishing things I have eaten in years. I unashamedly made ‘yummy’ noises while I ate it. It was like being wrapped in a warm blanket from the inside – pure comfort food… but still also bonus nutritious with veggies and protein. It literally made my day. Never underestimate the power behind finding the food that nourishes you. Food isn’t ‘sinful’ or ‘evil’ or the enemy. Eating doesn’t make you a bad person.

      Finding activity and food that nourishes you is such an amazing thing – if only we could help kids focus on that.

    • Kala permalink
      March 13, 2012 1:11 am

      It’s definitely a cultural thing. For my extended family in another country, there’s absolutely no shame in enjoying food, regardless of weight. People all over the world take pride in making delicious and comforting food.

      I personally can’t see how anything even remotely positive comes out of a negative relationship with food. Feeling shame for eating is such trash.

    • March 13, 2012 1:05 pm

      Never gotten a high from “exercise,” but plenty of highs from fun physical stuff, like putting on cross-country skis and getting out in the woods, or reaching a new-longest-distance on the bicycle or walking on the lake and stopping to pet all the big dogs people are walking.

      Exercise… walking on the treadmill, pedaling the bike trainer, trying to run when I’m really, really not a runner. I’m more willing to exercise now because I know it supports the fun stuff. But exercise for the point of exercise? Ugh.

      That said, I support you if you prefer non-physical activities, including sharing good food with good people (I’m a fan of that one, myself). I just think it’s unfortunate that our dysfunctional society has sucked the joy out of movement by making it a chore we’re supposed to do because we’re supposed to hate ourselves.

  6. Lillian permalink
    March 13, 2012 12:12 am

    The stretch mark thing bothers me. I got stretch marks when I went through adolescence. I have them on my breasts and thighs. My son has them on his arms, legs, and belly from his adolescence growth spurt. I got my stretch marks when I was thin. My son doubled his weight in less than two years going from a short, skinny boy turning into an average height man.

  7. pyctsi permalink
    March 16, 2012 1:25 pm

    I don’t have many stretch marks as I put my weight on gradually, my tall, skinny boyfriend has quite a few having shot up and gained muscle mass in his early teens,

    So it looks like that’s one of their issues shot to pieces. Oh and my b/f tends to eat more than I do and forgets to drink enough water, so I guess that technically makes me healthier.


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