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Critics say Obesity Campaign more Harmful than Helpful

3:51 PM, May 6, 2011   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- A good billboard is designed to get your attention, but some billboards popping up around Georgia may be getting more than their fair share.

They are part of a new initiative from the Georgia Children's Health Alliance called "Stop Childhood Obesity."

The billboards appeared in Macon and Columbus and feature pictures of overweight children alongside messages like "he has his father's eyes, his laugh and maybe even his diabetes" or "fat kids become fat adults."

The campaign continues online, with video testimonies from overweight children describing how they are teased by others or get tired easily.

"Nobody's really paying attention to [child obesity]," says Ron Frieson, who is in charge of the campaign. "So we felt as though it would take some drastic measures."

Too drastic, some say. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance says the campaign stigmatizes overweight children and have called for the billboards to come down.

"They're doing more harm than good," says Peggy Howell, the group's spokeswoman. "They are making children think that there is something wrong with them. That they're doing something wrong."

The push to get kids to lead healthy lifestyles has gained national attention in recent years. The White House is on board; Michelle Obama has traveled the country to promote the importance of healthy eating.

Frieson says Georgia has the second highest child obesity rates in the country. He wants the ads to reach parents, many of whom, he says, are in denial.

"It's not just the parents who see these billboards," Howell argues. "It's the children as well...children who are not blind and who are old enough to read."

She says such campaigns should target everyone equally and encourage everyone to live a healthy lifestyle.

Frieson says the billboards are just the first phase of the campaign and have since been taken down to prepare for the next wave of ads. But judging from the buzz they've caused, he believes they are working.

"We have heard from more kids that have raised their hands and said 'can you help me?'" he says. "'I have asked for help, nobody wants to help me, can you help me?'"

MORE: See the obesity campaign ads

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