Georgia’s Fat Shaming Child Obesity Billboards Coming Down

At the end of January 2012, Leah Segedie, a fitness blogger and founder of Mamavation, sounded the alarm about a childhood obesity campaign in Georgia that was shaming overweight kids. The Strong 4 Life campaign included a series of billboards, print ads, television ads, and social media featuring overweight children. The children talk about the negative social and health impacts of their size, including being excluded and made fun of by classmates.

According to Strong 4 Life, the campaign was intended to wake up the parents who, in many cases, are not even aware of the problem. Instead, the campaign sent out the message that these children should be ashamed of their size. It sent the message that bullying and excluding overweight children is normal and acceptable.  Instead of blaming bullies for being bullies and giving overweight children the motivation they need to make positive changes, the campaign simply worsened the stigma that they live with.

Segedie started a campaign called “Ashamed”, pointing out that shaming the “fat” kid is not solving the obesity epidemic. In her post calling on other bloggers, parents and activists to join her, she wrote about her own struggle with her weight, having been an overweight child, being morbidly obese, and living with an eating disorder.

I was that child years ago. Every time someone drew attention to my weight, I spent my time eating more. Why? Because food was how I made myself feel better. If you were going to make me feel bad about myself, I was going to run to food again. Does that make sense? No. But since when does having an eating disorder make any sense?

BTW, I assure you this child knows she is overweight. It’s not like drawing attention to it is going to make her have some kind of an epiphany. Like “Wow, I never knew that…are you serious? You mean this roll in my belly isn’t just water?”

And guess what? I’m right. These type of tactics don’t work when it comes to weight. They are counterproductive. I would say abusive.

Since her initial call to action, Segedie has been working hard to convince the Strong 4 Life campaign to take a different tact and it looks like it is working. On February 26, she wrote that the billboards were coming down. When I spoke to her later that week, she explained more about what had happened.

We’ve been working tirelessly on the Ashamed movement to have the Strong 4 Life billboards taken down since January. We organized two very popular protest chats on twitter and had several media outlets cover our efforts, but I don’t think Strong 4 Life took us seriously until we started focusing on the money. After we gently nudged Carters and asked them to tell us whether they were in support of the billboards of not, I think Strong 4 Life realized that this would hurt them where it counts–their pocketbook. Then ALL OF A SUDDEN I got emails about negotiating an end to the billboards. There are PLENTY of mom brands we could “nudge” that have given them lots of money and have promised future support. Before that I think they were just happy to get all the attention.

I’ve been privately urging Strong 4 Life to extend an “olive branch” to us this entire time as a way for us to all work together for the greater good, but now I realize they will never say that we had anything to do with their decision because they can’t. That means they have to admit that what they did was wrong. I think if they did that, it would give them a black eye to the sponsors. None of this matters to me though. I just care that those damn billboards are going to come down already.

In addition to the billboards coming down, it looks as though the Strong 4 Life campaign has made changes to the imagery on its website, twitter account and facebook page. Where the black and white images of children looking upset or ashamed used to appear, they now have images of children looking motivated, strong and confident.

Childhood obesity is a problem in Georgia. Thankfully, the activism of Leah Segedie and others in the blogging community, has helped the Strong 4 Life campaign move toward a more positive message. Motivating families and children to exercise and eat well and giving them the tools to do so can make a difference. Shaming them will only make things worse. The goals of the Strong 4 Life campaign have always been good, but now they have a fighting chance of being heard by those who need to hear them instead of hurting those who need their help.

Photo credit: Mamavation


Eldemie V.
Eldemie V.3 years ago

we have to help them like encourage them to do some exercise not to bullying them.

child obesity @

Colin Wright
Past Member 3 years ago

A lot of people have said a lot of great things that I agree with. I'd just like to add my 2 cents.

I think every child in this country (and the world, really) should be required to study eastern martial arts through at least the ages of K-12. Ideally lessons would be paid for by the state (meaning your tax dollars). The health benefits of this, both mental and physical, would be enormous (provided the instructors follow the traditional ideals, which is that martial arts are to be used to AVOID fighting, not encourage it).

Kay M.
Kay M.3 years ago

negative motivation doesn't work.

Duane B.
.3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

(cut off)..........Dealing with an obese child is very difficult. They already have self-eseem issues, probably, so telling them they aren't "perfect" hits them even harder and often is counter-productive. The parent doesn't want their child to be "in pain" so figures it's more damaging to criticize for weight than to ignore the weight issue and that maybe the kid "will grow out of it". The kids more often than not, do NOT grow out of that. If we love our kids, we don't NEED them to be perfect, but we need them to be confident and as healthy as they can be. It's hard to say "yes" and even harder to say "no" sometimes.

Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Valeria, good points, but FACTS are, after decades of research, "chubby" toddlers are one thing, and yes, a bit of "baby fat" is not to loose sleep over, nor should a toddler be put on Atkins, BUT the premise that allowing a child to eat whatever it wants, and that food is a reward for temper tantrums or crying fits should be discouraged. When a toddler screams because he/she can't have another bottle or cookie and it's given to get them to quit screaming, it's reinforcing the "food is comfort" thing. Then the kid keeps that up and next thing anyone realizes is the kid has serious issues INCLUDING a messed up sense of self worth. When that continues, the kid grows into an adult and the cells in the body have been programmed accordingly. My Mom, my sister and I were all on the thin side. I was actually UNDERWEIGHT when I got married and my first child turned out pretty much as I figured she obvious 50/50 mix of my husband and I. She was absolutely within limits until she was about 9 and started getting a "bit" heavy. My then ex-husband taunted her and the more he did, the more she ate to "spite" him. Now she has weight issues but has her eating habits under control, finally. A former co-worker had one child and I remember as an infant, she got a bottle shoved in her mouth everytime she whined or cried. As a year old toddler, she was too heavy to even try to walk. Now, she's in her early 40's and is wider than she is tall. Dealing with an obese child

Valeria J.
Valeria Jones3 years ago

the problem with "letting" a child become obese is that children often had a lot of baby fat that gets smoothed out when they hit growth spurts. That body fat plus the food they eat translates into GROWTH which is what we want. It's not until they are past the growth stage and into puberty that you might notice that they aren't growing fast enough to justify the extra fat.
Fat babies don't always become fat adults, and on the opposite side some skinny children have to be fed more to get them to grow, but then grow up and BECOME fat. It's not a once size fits all with babies. Fat people are born into skinny families and vice versa, but it's more important to focus on feeding them good healthy food than trying to make them model material before they are even teenagers. Don't diet your kid just let them be kids with the freedom to exercise and play, good meats and fats, a variety of vegetables and limited sugars, breads and juice. Some people don't know what to do if their child becomes genuinely obese, so we also need to stop the misinformation that is causing more obesity as well as the shame in suffering with it. Feeding a fat kid fat free lunch and not letting them play during the day is NOT going to help them.

Emily Drew
Emily Drew4 years ago

I don't understand how someone could let their child become very overweight or obese. If someone is starving their child it is considered cruelty and neglect yet if someone over feeds their child and lets them sit around and not exerciseand yet that is not considered cruelty and neglect!? Either way you are killing your child!

I do think that poster was completely wrong though bringing awareness is great but not in that way.

Diane L.
Diane L.4 years ago

I agree, Kathy. Care.2 now has a blog/discussion about supermarkets being to blame for obesity. I didn't even waste time to read it because I know I'd go ballistic. Nobody twists anybody's arm to buy a damned thing in the stores. People are irresponsible and refuse to get knowledge about WHY they're obese. Yesterday I went shopping (late at night) at the new Walmart's Superstore (they were formally a small store) and I enjoy being able to shop at night at my convenience with no "rug rats" and bimbos walking around yapping on cell phones. They had only one check stand open and I was about 5 -6 persons in back of the line. I had a full cart of groceries and other stuff, but what I got will last me for a month, maybe longer. The woman behind me was 3/X my size and could barely waddle. She was carrying TWO boxes of powdered sugar donuts and a 2-liter bottle of soda, nothing else, and talking to her companion (probably her son) about having to eat food at home before it spoiled, and mentioned crackers several times, string cheese, and a bunch of other junk foods. I felt like making a snarky remark to her like, "Yeah, lady, you really need those donuts. I bet it's been a whole day since your last one". I kept my lips zipped.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

Obesity is an epidemic, and its getting to where we are pitying the people. They are not pitiful, they are irresponsible. Parents AND young adults. Kids who are morbidly obese should be removed if the parent refuses to better their lifestyle. We don't need to tip toe around their feelings! We are just holding their hands to the grave, and to a life of ridicule, bad health, and lower self esteem