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Ten Commandments —

February 1, 2012
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By now you’ve heard about our Big, Fat Moneybomb. We’d love to see $10k in one day, and all we need to really raise is $5,000 since we now have the $5,000 More of Me to Love Match on the table.

We’ve already confirmed from 165 supporters who are participating the BFM, and we want to persuade those who are on the fence to throw their financial support behind the Stand4Every Body Coalition to produce a positive public response to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Strong4Life’s.

With that in mind, I give you “10 Lies for 10 Thousand Dollars.”

The following are lies told by representatives of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta or Strong4Life regarding their campaign. Some of them you’ve already read, while others I’ve been holding onto for this very day. For today is the start of Fatty February, our month-long fundraiser to build a robust media response to Strong4Life.

10. “Obese children are at risk for developing heart disease, hypertension, liver and kidney disease and type 2 diabetes.”Source: Strong4Life’s FAQ

Although obesity is correlated with those diseases, it is obese children who are sedentary and eat an energy dense diet who are at risk for developing heart disease, hypertension, liver and kidney disease and type 2 diabetes. But so are thin kids who are sedentary and eat an energy dense diet, such as the 17-year-old British girl who recently collapsed after subsisting on a diet of nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. A child, any child of any size, who eats a healthy diverse diet and gets the recommended amount of exercise can achieve positive health outcomes, regardless of weight loss.  Also, saying someone is “at risk” does not indicate how much of a risk, and I outlined the various risk levels from recent studies on the various diseases affecting children. The ads imply that ALL fat children are at risk for developing ALL of the disease listed, when the truth is much more complicated.

9. “My doctor said I have something called hypertension.”Source: Strong4Life commercial

Actually, “Maritza” doesn’t have hypertension. Nor does “Tamika” have type 2 diabetes. In fact, Maritza and Tamika are fictional characters. Maritza is actually 11-year-old Chloe Swain, who is a confident and talented young girl. And Maritza is played by  a 14-year-old Maya Bradley, who, her mother reassures us, does have high blood sugar (because that’s totally the same as type 2 diabetes). I’m sure Maya appreciates that disclosure. As with the dishonest New York campaign that photoshopped a man’s leg away from a healthy man to portray him as a victim of diabetes, the question naturally arises as to why a public health campaign resorts to dramatizations of diseases that are ravishing our country. Even more disturbing, the man in that ad was not informed that he would become the face of diabetic amputations. While the children in the Strong4Life ads were aware of the goal of the ad campaign, the public should be informed with a disclaimer that the “testimonials” were actually dramatizations.

Now, here’s the kicker: the FTC recently released its latest guidelines on testimonials and endorsements and the Strong4Life commercials using child actors portraying fat children with illnesses they don’t actually have could violate those rules:

255.1 Consumer endorsements.

(d) Advertisers are subject to liability for false or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and their endorsers. Endorsers also may be liable for statements made in the course of their endorsements. [emphasis mine]

According to this analysis by a marketing and advertising attorney, not fully disclosing compensation can violate this rule:

If there is a connection between the endorser and the seller of the advertised product that might materially affect the weight or credibility of the endorsement (i.e., the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience) — even in-kind compensation — then you must “fully” disclose the nature of the connection.

Strong4Life is partially compensating the child actors with participation in the Strong4Life program, which is the definition of “in-kind compensation.” Why aren’t they disclosing this fact to viewers?

8. “The ads aren’t aimed at children.” Source: Everywhere.

When Strong4Life received a second round of media attention at the beginning of the year, critics began asking why Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta would target children for a public shaming and bullying campaign. Their response has been consistent across all platforms: “The ads aren’t aimed at children, they are aimed at the parents.” And while the claim itself is laughable, what’s even more hilarious is the fact that their message of “We aren’t targeting children” isn’t entirely consistent.

When the ad campaign launched in May 2011, Strong4Life chairman, Ron Frieson, appeared on The Today Show, where Meredith Vieria asked him, “You’re aiming it at parents, not kids, right?” Vieria set up the question to nudge Frieson into not admitting that their campaign was might actually affect fat kids in the state of Georgia. Instead, Frieson declared their intentions from the very beginning: “Well actually, we want parents to be aware, but we want educators to be aware and we want other kids to see these kids who may very well relate to them.”

If your chairman says that you are targeting fat kids with your fat-shaming billboards, then you are targeting fat kids with your fat-shaming billboards. Period.

7. “BMI is a measure of a person’s body fat.” — Source: Strong4Life’s FAQ

This is just one of several erroneous, convoluted or questionable claims made on Strong4Life’s FAQ, as I dissected thoroughly in this post. You would think that a healthcare organization that specializes in childhood obesity would be able to get their basic facts straight, but Body Mass Index is an indicator of overall body mass, not a measure of body fat. It has become a proxy for body fat, but nobody with any real understanding of the issues would claim that BMI is a measure of body fat. The equation, which is individual’s body weight divided by the square of his or her height, ensures that whether you’re a 5’7″, 200-pound couch potato or a 5’7″, 200-pound body builder, your BMI of 31.3 earns you the label of obese.

6. “Sam states he’s been bullied less.”Source: Twitter

While this statement is factually true (Sam did state that he has been bullied less in this NPR article), the claim was made in response to an accusation that Strong4Life’s ads contribute to bullying. By pointing to Sam’s quote, Strong4Life implied that the billboards have somehow lessened the impact of bullying on fat kids, when in reality, Sam is getting bullied less because he had lost weight. Sam’s full quote reads, “I was being bullied a lot because of my weight, and after I started losing it, it cut down quite a lot.”

But research on weight loss attempts in children is well-documented, as in this three-year prospective study of 15,000 boys and girls aged 9 to 14 in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In that study, researchers concluded:

Although medically supervised weight control may be beneficial for overweight youths, our data suggest that for many adolescents, dieting to control weight is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain.

Strong4Life had nothing to do with reducing Sam’s bully problem. If they helped him lose weight, then they have merely postponed the cruelty until he does what almost everyone does when they attempt to lose weight: gain it back, and then some.

5. “Don’t judge your child or make jokes about their weight. It is important that your child maintain a feeling of self-worth and increased self-esteem.”Source: the Sharecare account of Dr. Stephanie Walsh, Medical Director for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

This is the most craven and shameless lie I have heard on the campaign. While the content of what Dr. Walsh says is true, and she seems to understand and accept the well-documented effects that stigma has on fat children, but the fact that Dr. Walsh is still defending the ads means that although she is aware of the importance of preserving a fat child’s self-esteem, she just doesn’t give a shit in actual practice. Either Dr. Walsh believes what she said above, but is willing to disregard this truth while executing a shame-based campaign, or else she was lying to the parent who asked her for advice on Sharecare and really believes shame should be used to motivate children. She cannot defend both stances.

4. 75% of parents “didn’t know there was an issue/did not recognize their child was obese/ignore the problem.” — Source: Twitter and Strong4Life website

This has become the cornerstone of Strong4Life’s shame campaign. The reason they are “targeting adults” is because 75% of parents have some variation of the claim cited above. The reason I listed three claims is that this 75% statistic has been used inconsistently on Twitter, Facebook and in their own advertising. Vesta located a claim on ABC News that the 75% result came from a survey done in two towns in Georgia. After requesting the published results of  data from Strong4Life on January 9, I received this response from Strong4Life’s Twitter account on January 11:

It has now been 22 DAYS since they began “collecting” that research background and we still have not received any information. How can a major healthcare institution declare war on the parents of fat children without their research ducks in a row? We have since called on CHOA to release the raw data, rather than the spin they are currently preparing, if they are preparing anything at all.

3. “We won’t remove your comment just because we don’t like it” and “‘Spam,’ whether to advertise or simply repeat any message multiple times on our Facebook wall is prohibited.”First Quote Source: Strong4Life Facebook page; Second Quote Source: Strong4Life Facebook page

After posting my request for the 75% research, Strong4Life banned me from their Facebook page and blocked me on Twitter. Fortunately I took screen caps of the “offensive” passages, which do not appear to violate their terms except when I said, “Shame on you.” Since then, several others have been banned from their page for posting a copy of their STANDards, and they receive the following message:

Fair enough, but one of astute observer noted something unusual:

See? They’re not selectively removing posts. Yeah, they’ve been certain to delete each and every STANDard that has been posted, but they’re monitoring their Facebook page for any and all advertising and deleting it immediately… right?

Glancing through their page, that doesn’t seem to be the case as of 12:37 p.m. Central:

2. “Just ask Bobby.” Source: Strong4Life page

Thanks Strong4Life, I would love to just ask Bobby. How do I ask him?

Well, we’re told that this is Bobby here:

Bobby is the “star” of the crème de la shame commercial, where the young boy asks his mom “Why am I fat?” and she hangs her head in shame. In this commercial, we get a better look at Bobby in stark black and white.

But then I noticed something odd. When Strong4Life finally released their Phase 2 commercials in response to my video asking where Phase 2 was, I stumbled across this video:

Andrew? Who the hell is Andrew? It looks like the same kid as Bobby (same overbite, same face), but this kid runs around and says, “It’s fun to be strong for life!”

What the hell is this? Is this Bizarro Bobby? Because based solely on a comparison of the two videos, both kids are fat. The only difference is that Bobby is in black and white, slumped in a chair, admitting to his shameful fatness, while Andrew is in color, running around and admitting to his strength.

Strong4Life focuses on the visual identification of fat kids. All of the children used in the advertising are demonstrably fat and, therefore, targets for “attention” from Strong4Life. So, if they use visual clues to determine whether a child is healthy (read: thin) or unhealthy (read: fat), then how do you distinguish between fat and shameful Bobby and fat and strong Andrew? Are we now to only shame fat kids who aren’t perpetually running around repenting for their weight?

This is our grievance with Strong4Life: you cannot tell by looking at a fat child whether he or she is healthy. For that matter, you cannot tell whether a fat child has just lost or gained 20 pounds due to dieting. Shaming all fat kids for having fat bodies is wrong and Strong4Life knows this. Which calls into question their underlying motivation?

Today, when confronted by Valerie Gritsch, who expressed her disgust with medical professionals bullying kids,  Strong4Life gave the following response:

Please notice that although they say they had 600 patients enter their Health4Life clinic, which treats overweight and obese children, they do not say how many of them are presenting the illnesses in question. All they say is that they expect there to be 1,200 new patients to Health4Life in 2012. So, what does Health4Life do?

Well, among the healthcare services they offer, the Health4Life Clinic offers treatment plans for “healthy weight loss and weight management,” as well as weight loss surgery. So, my next question would be how many of their patients are receiving treatment for “obesity-related illnesses” and how many of those 600 are simply there for some form of weight loss treatment? We already know that Chloe and Maya, two of the actresses from the commercials, do not have any health problems. Are they receiving weight loss consultations as part of their “compensation” package? Do they offer weight management services to kids who don’t have health issues that are presumably due to weight? These are all questions to which I seriously doubt we will receive an honest answer.

1. “The new PAs begin mid-January in Atlanta.”Source: Twitter

Repeatedly, Strong4Life has assured critics that this is “just the first step” in their campaign. In the Today Show interview, Frieson outlines the three distinct phases that would take place over the course of this campaign. The shame would not go on indefinitely, as the second phase, called “Activate,” would follow the first phase, called “SHAME ON YOU, YOU DISGUSTING PILE OF CRAP!” From the beginning, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Strong4Life have pushed the idea that this is a multi-phase campaign and that shocking ads were only there until they got parents’ attention.

On January 3, HealthHabits asked Strong4Life when Phase 2 would begin and this is the response they gave on Twitter:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t “phases” typically end before the following phase begins? Because while on January 22 Strong4Life released the Phase 2 ads on YouTube, Phase 1 is still going strong. Haven’t we been assured that Phase 1 was temporary and that Phase 2 would replace the shameful ads with uplifting ads?

Have they purchased ad space for Phase 2 on television to replace the Phase 1 commercials? Are they promoting the more uplifting Activate ads with the same ferocity that they promoted the dehumanizing Shame ads? Are the same fat kids that they have degraded for NINE MONTHS even aware that there’s a second phase in which fat kids are shown playing and laughing and enjoying life IN COLOR?

There’s a simple way to see what kind of reach Phase 2 is getting: Bobby’s commercial currently has a quarter of a million viewers, while Andrew’s commercial has… let’s see, carry the two, multiply by the prime, inverse the coefficients… 181 views.

It is time for Phase 1 to end. And not just a “here’s a few 15 second color commercials to satisfy you fatties” kind of end, but the billboards and the advertisements from Phase 1 must stop.

And we need you to help us stop them. By participating in the Big, Fat Moneybomb tomorrow, you will be sending a message to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta that we will not allow them to profit off of the shame they have inflicted on the children of Georgia. We have various levels of giving, but no amount is too small. Every dollar matters.

You can read more about the details of the moneybomb at Support All Kids, which is where you will go tomorrow to donate. You can also confirm your commitment to this campaign on Facebook.

We are seeking to raise $10,000 dollars, and I think at a thousand dollars a lie, we will meet, and exceed, our goal. Please, share this information with everyone you know and ask them to give tomorrow. Until then…

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