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Sleight of Hand —

February 13, 2012
by

Friday was epic.

Friday was a severe blow to Strong4Life.

And you know how I know? Because they have gone into complete lockdown, while shifting strategies over the weekend.You’ll recall the front page of Strong4Life’s homepage featured black and white Bobby all tight-shirted and sullen (or is it cheeky?):

Well, this past weekend, after getting their asses handed to them on a platter by the National Institutes of Health, Strong4Life has had a sudden change of heart. Phase 1 was so depressing. So depressing, in fact, that they aren’t allowing anyone to talk about it on their Facebook page.

The first I heard about their new Facebook commenting policy was through an email I received from Kevin McClelland, Director of External Communications for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA). You’ll recall that the last time ol’ Kev shot me an email on January 13, he informed me that “we are having members of our medical team review your post so we can appropriately respond to you.” The post in question was amply cited and offered a rational alternative to the Shame and Save strategy CHOA offered.

And in that same email McClelland told me in reference to my request for the elusive 75% research results:

We are coordinating with our clinical research leader to determine the right time to publish the research we have conducted so far, but do intend to share some of it soon. I can tell you that the study we cite was conducted through a third-party research and statistically significant differences were at the 95% confidence level. [emphasis mine]

One month later, I have yet to hear from Kevin’s medical team on that post or the underlying research. So, how soon is “soon”?

When I saw Kev’s email this past Friday, I was like, “Dude! You’ve come through! You’re sending me some answers! We’re totally going down to the Dog Prairie Saloon for some beers after all this is over!”

Imagine my disappointment when I read this:

Shannon,

Thank you for participating in and propelling the discussion around childhood obesity during the last six weeks. The Strong4Life ad campaign incited productive national (and even international) conversation around the issue of childhood obesity [ed. note: Actually, the “international conversation” was about how the NIH thinks your billboards suck]. Now that people are aware obesity is a real health crisis [ed. note: prior to Strong4Life, nobody had even heard of obesity] and that change must occur for the sake of lifelong health, we are moving on and asking people to consider what simple steps they can take to make changes. We believe this discussion will be positive and hopefully inspire those who participate, particularly via our Facebook community.

I am writing to you today to inform you that the managers of the Strong4Life Facebook community have decided to remove you from our page. You were banned early on as Atchka Fatty because you posted the names and numbers of our staff, which led to a good deal of hate calls – that’s harassment and a very clear violation of our rules [ed. note: This explanation is news to me] . 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. [emphasis mine]

The Strong4Life Facebook page exists to promote productive conversation about the childhood obesity crisis that is helpful to parents in Georgia in hopes of improving the health of our kids. Your comments do not promote this goal. Rather, you harass people on the page as do other members of the Fierce Fatties.

Please use other forums to continue your own agenda.

Sincerely,
Kevin McClelland

I’ve been nursing a broken heart all weekend. He just acts like we never have met. What happened, Kev? You’re being so cold and detached, after all we’ve been through. It’s almost like you’re happy to be rid of me.

And when Kev said they was moving on, he wasn’t kidding. After booting myself and seven other people who were commenting independently, not on behalf of this, or any other, blog, Strong4Life did the unthinkable.

Their homepage got a makeover.

Hey, look! Bobby got a shirt that fit!

Wow! So the secret to solving childhood obesity was well-fitting shirts and smiling! Shit, it was right in front of us all along!

Not only are the sad fatties in spandex gone, but remember how FAQed up their their old FAQ was? They’ve even revamped that. Let’s compare, shall we?

What is obesity?
Old FAQ Answer: Obesity is defined as excess body fatness and is generally assessed by BMI (Body Mass Index)
New FAQ Answer:  The CDC defines overweight and obesity as labels for ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height.

What is BMI and why is it important?
Old FAQ Answer: BMI is a measure of a person’s body fat.
New FAQ Answer: According to the CDC, overweight and obesity ranges are determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index” (BMI). BMI is used because, for most people, it estimates the amount of body fat.

Are we starting to notice a pattern here?

They began this $50 million advertising campaign in May 2011 and they’re only now providing accurate, basic facts  on the issue. Not a single person in this organization had the presence of mind to verify the accuracy of their own Frequently Asked Questions page. Not a single person in this organization thought that upon launching an advertising campaign with the potential to leave deep psychological scars on a vulnerable population of children that they would be asked for the research that justifies the harshness (Strong4Life has described their own campaign as harsh).

Now Strong4Life thinks that by stifling any discussion of their shame-based ad campaign, while throwing out some colorful, happy fatties in appropriate clothing, that we will just go away.

Well, we’re not, and here’s why: while we love seeing beautiful, happy fat kids, the sudden shift to Phase 2 is classic misdirection from their real intent, which is to target the areas with the greatest concentration of obese children. Traditionally, those neighborhoods are poor, urban areas.

After I was booted, Dana Marie swooped in and asked exactly which neighborhoods would be targeted. Their response, while heavy on details, was conspicuously opaque regarding the exact locations.

Later, Duckie Graham got a bit more detail out of them before they said that they would not discuss their ad campaign.

I’m not familiar with Georgia, so I did some research on South Dekalb and South Fulton. I invite anyone who is more familiar with these areas to chime in, but from what I’ve read, Northern Dekalb is largely affluent and white, while South Dekalb is a predominantly poor neighborhood with pockets of “predominantly affluent African Americans.”  This area is begging for economic development, yet largely ignored, and is in danger of losing two healthcare clinics due to funding gaps.

South Fulton tells a similar story. Like South Dekalb, the North Fulton residents are largely white and affluent, while South Fulton is mired in poverty. The differences between North and South are so stark that there have been secession attempts by the North so their taxes don’t fund entitlements in the South. I’ve read about similar efforts between North and South Dekalb as well.

According to a 2000 Census report by Georgia State University titled “The Geography of Poverty in the Atlanta Region” (PDF), Fulton and Dekalb are some of the poorest areas in Atlanta:

In 2000 the tracts with the highest rates of extreme poverty in the ARC Region [Atlanta Regional Commission] remained primarily within central Fulton and DeKalb… In 2000 the tracts with the highest rates of extreme poverty in the ARC Region remained primarily within central Fulton and DeKalb.

And according to the 2010 “Metropolitan Atlanta Hospital Accountability Project” (PDF), Georgia Watch reports that healthcare services for the poor and uninsured are in grave danger:

Grady Memorial Hospital is generally known as the go-to facility for those without health coverage. The hospital has held this distinction for decades, despite being one of ten hospitals within Fulton County, where it is located. Collectively, those other hospitals provided $125,455,348 in uncompensated care charges, far less than half of the $293,547,705 in uncompensated care charges Grady Memorial provided that same year. In addition, the DeKalb County-based Emory Healthcare reported $23.1 million in uncompensated care provided by Emory physicians at Grady Health System.

This sort of uneven burden can cause financial stress that could lead to the hospital’s closure, and in the past several years, Grady Memorial has struggled to survive due to the debt incurred by serving a high volume of low-income and uninsured patients, and has undergone organizational and leadership changes in efforts to survive.

These are the neighborhoods that Strong4Life continues to target with the advertising campaign that the NIH has said “carries a great risk of increasing stigma for those children who are overweight or obese which, in turn, can reinforce unhealthy behaviors.”

The makeover is supposed to turn our attention from this campaign so that they can continue to attack the poorest among us. But we aren’t going to allow them to continue stigmatizing children just because they are poor. Strong4Life thinks they can trick people into thinking that the past month’s ugliness never was, but we will not allow people to forget what these ads do and just how dangerous they are. And we will not rest until every last billboard is down.

This week we begin targeting CHOA’s sponsors one at a time until we secure their divestment in the foundation behind this new low in their campaign. We will also target one celebrity to do a STANDard in support of a stigma-free world for all children. So, stay tuned as we shift strategies along with Strong4Life and continue to pressure them into ending Phase 1 completely.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2012 12:47 pm

    I just posted a polite response to them and we’ll see what happens.

  2. February 13, 2012 12:47 pm

    I screencapped it, too, just for safety’s sake.

  3. vesta44 permalink
    February 13, 2012 12:58 pm

    I love how S4L is taking credit for bringing “childhood obesity” to our attention. After all, until they started their campaign, no one, anywhere was talking about it at all. Michelle Obama didn’t know anything about childhood obesity until 2011, all those articles in the news that we’ve been seeing for the last, oh, at least 6 years from what I found on a Yahoo search of “childhood obesity articles” didn’t exist until S4L came on the scene. All of those things were just figments of our imaginations. Kids were never bullied for being fat until S4L started their shit, parents never had to listen to their kids cry over it, kids never resorted to starving themselves or exercising like hamsters on speed because, of course, they didn’t know they were fat until S4L came along and showed them with those billboards.
    S4L really needs to get over themselves – they aren’t telling us anything we haven’t heard before about our children – from the media, from our children’s doctors, from strangers on the street. They sure as hell aren’t telling us anything we haven’t heard ourselves as fat children, some of us for more than 50 years ago. The hubris, the nerve of S4L to think that they have come up with something new and different is just totally astounding and outrageous.

  4. February 13, 2012 1:07 pm

    Great article! Also they are banning us and deleting our comments so other people posting on the site say they came to see what the controversy is and see there is none according to the posts S4L allows to be seen.

    I wanted to also comment about the final two comments that got me banned on their site. They were in response to their question posted on their page: “If you could pick one thing to change about society today to help prevent childhood obesity, what would it be?”
    To which I had the audacity of replying:

    “Make healthier foods more affordable & accessible. I recently tried to buy quinoa pasta and it was $5 a box! i also wish there were healthy “fast food” options. for example I love this restaurant called veggie grill but they are few & far away. i wish they were everywhere and offered drive-up service. and again i wish their prices were a little bit more affordable as well. also i would love to see movement programs for kids that were designed to be radically inclusive of all body types and encouraged respect & support for everyone.show kids how fun it is to dance or play a sport etc..i know that for myself if im on a treadmill i will do 20 mins. but if im at a dance rehearsal i dance for 3 or 4 hours at a shot sometimes because i love doing it.” Then they were deleted & I was banned.

    Other comments left up were:
    “mandatory p.e.” yeah like that has ever helped or motivated kids. And this post is still up as well:

    “Parents need to stop feeling guilty and quit caving in to kids’ demands. It’s amazing what they’ll eat if they don’t have any options. Asparagus is delicious compared to nothing :)”

    This was my last communication before I was banned. without explanation. I was trying desperately to keep within their boundaries and remain included in the discussions. And I genuinely was trying to contribute to their conversation not rock the boat. I even offered & invited them to communicate by email with me.

    For more of my views on S4L’s abysmal campaign: http://www.adiosbarbie.com/2012/02/size-activists-shed-light-on-fat-shaming-campaign/

  5. February 13, 2012 1:09 pm

    just to clarify:

    This was my last communication before I was banned. without explanation.

    “Make healthier foods more affordable & accessible. I recently tried to buy quinoa pasta and it was $5 a box! i also wish there were healthy “fast food” options. for example I love this restaurant called veggie grill but they are few & far away. i wish they were everywhere and offered drive-up service. and again i wish their prices were a little bit more affordable as well. also i would love to see movement programs for kids that were designed to be radically inclusive of all body types and encouraged respect & support for everyone.show kids how fun it is to dance or play a sport etc..i know that for myself if im on a treadmill i will do 20 mins. but if im at a dance rehearsal i dance for 3 or 4 hours at a shot sometimes because i love doing it.” Then they were deleted & I was banned.

  6. February 13, 2012 1:40 pm

    FANTASTIC!!! When I noticed the smiling girl on their web page the other day, I figured something was a foot. Thanks for laying it out so clearly. And thank you for keeping all of us motivated to keep the pressure on. I’ve tried to leave several more comments on their page since they removed my last post but they have not allowed any of them to stand.

    (As The Dude would say, “This aggression will not stand man!”
    Thanks!

  7. Catgal permalink
    February 13, 2012 2:09 pm

    “Ignoring this problem is what got us here”. Still off the mark as far as I am concerned. The little “let’s think of little things we can do to make a change” line is off as well.

    The initiative needs to be about nutrition and enjoyable movement for ALL not just the “undesireables”..

  8. LittleBigGirl permalink
    February 13, 2012 2:39 pm

    Anyone else catch the laughable line in their response to Duckie Graham about the “clinical reality of being overweight or obese.”
    If they are still insisting/ operating on the unscientific assumption that: overweight = unhealthy, BMI = accurate measurement of health, and/or overweight = health problems not connected to weight like diabetes…then they are about as far from “reality” as you can get!
    The health risks related to obesity have not been clinically proven, therefore the entire “war on obesity” is a farce. EVEN IF IT WAS TRUE, the idea that treating kids like this is an acceptable and positive way to ‘fight’ obesity is still insane.

    As a possible next move in our dispute with CHOA, what about reaching out to counselors and psychologists to get testimony about what damage shame does to people (kids *and* adults), and how they are actually making things worse and possibly paving the way for eating disorders and other things far more unhealthy than being overweight. Fight supposed expertise with expertise…

    Also Catgal you made an EXCELLENT point that got me thinking: what about the *thin* kids who aren’t getting proper nutrition or enough exercise? They are going to suffer just as much from being ignored as larger kids are going to suffer from the negative attention! :-(

  9. Avery permalink
    February 14, 2012 5:32 am

    They don’t have the money to run public clinics, but they have the money to line the pockets of ClearChannel or CBS or whoever else owns the billboard frames down there. Love that crony capitalism (as if there’s any other kind….)

  10. Skye permalink
    February 14, 2012 2:20 pm

    “I’m not familiar with Georgia, so I did some research on South Dekalb and South Fulton. I invite anyone who is more familiar with these areas to chime in, but from what I’ve read, Northern Dekalb is largely affluent and white, while South Dekalb is a predominantly poor neighborhood with pockets of “predominantly affluent African Americans.” ”

    The entire Atlanta region is very mixed. You can have projects on one side of the street and nice townhouses on the other. Take Atlanta Medical Center for example- on the back side (Boulevard Ave), you will find a lot of low income projects and known as a “shady” area, whereas at the corner of Boulevard and Highland is a nice gated midrise apartment community followed by very nice townhouses. On the front of Atlanta Medical, is a hospice. You also have section 8 beneficiaries living in the same communities as those with middle income. An entire region cannot be classified as predominately poor in Atlanta.

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