The “Stop Sugarcoating it Georgia” childhood obesity ad campaign and NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s graphic anti-obesity ad campaign have both stirred up a lot of controversy. Do billboards featuring overweight children saying things like “It’s hard to be a little girl. If you’re not” or heavy adults missing limbs or huffing up stairs do more damage than good? Are they a helpful “wake up call” or just another way to heap shame and stigma on the overweight?
At fitmsi.com and fitsmiForMoms.com, we try to empower teen girls struggling with their weight to take control of their own health and we try to help parents help kids reach their goals. It takes the interest and effort of a person’s entire community to help kids get and stay on track through adulthood. According to a recent study, a parent’s pro-active involvement in the home is clearly a factor in helping kids get healthy. But parents can’t help their child achieve a healthy weight if they don’t even perceive a problem in the first place. Research done by Strong4Life, sponsored by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, revealed that 75 percent of parents whose children are overweight or obese don’t see a problem.
If we don’t start sending direct messages to adults about the severe health risks caused by obesity, then we are risking entire families. Ads like “Stop Sugarcoating it Georgia,” which are really aimed at parents more than kids, as well as Bloomberg’s subway billboards targeting adults (many of whom are parents) are an important step in the complicated issue of childhood/adolescent and adult obesity because the first step is to get people’s attention.
But after the shock and awe that the campaign elicits, it’s essential to offer effective tools and support for families to begin the process of healthy living. At fitsmi.com and fitsmiForMoms.com we learned early in our research with overweight teens and their moms that they need a realistic plan that gives them clear directives about food and exercise and also helps them feel better about themselves. And they need support from peers, peer mentors or professionals to cheer them on and keep them on track. That’s why we designed fitsmi’s Change Machine to be not just a personal tracker but a girl-only social network, taking full advantage of peer support, as well as a gateway tool for cost-effective personal and group coaching, which we will be adding in spring 2012.
The Strong4Life and Bloomberg videos and billboards are a bold and, yes, controversial contribution to creating awareness of the seriousness of this country’s obesity epidemic. So now that the conversation has started, let’s get going. At fitsmi and fitsmiForMoms, we are dedicated to being an effective and affordable solution to overweight teen girls and their parents.
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