Disney is currently facing a media frenzy given its recent anti-childhood-obesity campaign exhibit at Epcot Center in Florida, which many health professionals say used shame tactics, weight prejudice and, clearly, poor judgment in its effort to educate children on how to acquire healthy habits.
Disney’s exhibit, called “Habit Heroes,” is a joint effort with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield who invested millions of dollars in the campaign, which opened earlier this month. The exhibit is now closed and its accompanying website is under maintenance indefinitely.
“Habit Heroes” featured the cartoon superheroes Will Power and Callie Stenics, a fit team who help children fight villains named Lead Bottom (whose description reads: “Blubbery loves company”) and The Glutton, whose “crimes” include inactivity and binge eating.
While Jennifer Fickley-Baker, social media manager of the Disney Parks blog is reported to have said the exhibit’s purpose is to “[encourage] children of all ages to learn healthy lifestyle habits and become more active,” several health professionals and organizations have spoken out in disapproval of the exhibit.
Some of exhibit’s more vocal opponents include The Binge Eating Disorder Association, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, a chair of the Canadian Obesity Network, professors including Rebecca Scritchfield (an adjunct at George Washington University), dietitians including Julie Duffy Dillon, and author and activist Marion Nestle.
Yoni Freedhoff, the Canadian Obesity Network’s family medicine chair and author of the blog, Weighty Matters, said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that overweight and obese kids going through this exhibit are leaving feeling horrible about themselves” [source].
In her article in the Huffington Post yesterday, author and magazine editor Sunny Gold wrote, “We all want kids to be healthy. But, as study after study has shown, shaming doesn’t promote healthy weight loss, it promotes eating disorders. Which, not coincidentally, are on the rise in this country, right along with obesity.”
Coincidentally, this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
What do you think? Do you think Disney missed the mark with its characterization of healthy habit superheroes and the villains they have to fight? What kind of message does this send to children, no matter their size?