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Childhood obesity ads drawing fire
Campaign aims to reduce problem, but some worry they cause kids more angst
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Almost 1 million children in Georgia are overweight or obese, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta reports.

And Georgia ranked second in the nation with the highest rate of obese and overweight children, the hospital said.

"Childhood obesity is a growing problem. It's a huge problem in the state of Georgia," said Dr. Chandra Miller, a pediatrician with The Longstreet Clinic.

Obesity puts children at risk for diseases that were once considered adult problems, like type 2 diabetes, hypertension and joint issues.

Earlier this year, Children's Healthcare released what has become a controversial ad campaign that targets childhood obesity through a movement called Strong4Life.

The ads feature overweight children in black and white explaining the difficulties that go along with their weight. Printed along the bottom of the ads are warnings like "Chubby kids may not outlive their parents."

Miller said while the ads may be controversial, there is definitely a problem. It's something she sees with her patients every day.

According to The Georgia Department of Community Health, nearly 1 in 4 people in Hall County were considered obese in 2007.

"The obesity rate is still rising and if there is something we can do, we need to try it," Miller said.

But some people feel the ads place blame on the child and worry they will have a negative impact on an overweight child's self-esteem.

"We want our kids to feel good about themselves no matter what they look like," said Kraig Peebles, physical education and health teacher at Enota Multiple Intelligence Academy. "Shock value is always effective. It's just not the best way to go about it."

The ads also address how excessive weight affects a child's self-image.

Peebles said though he has a strict no bullying policy in his class, he knows it still happens.

"Kids are cruel. If you've got a fault, kids are going to tell you about it," Peebles said.

But Miller questions if children's self-esteem is as much of a problem today as it has been in the past, simply because there are more obese children.

The Rev. Randy Davenport said he grew up as a heavy child and knows how cruel children can be.

"When you're overweight you are the victim of attacks at school. Children can be vicious especially when you're overweight," Davenport said.

Davenport is on an extreme weight-loss plan and has lost nearly 130 pounds. Part of his routine includes working out with children at the Georgia Mountains YMCA. He says the main thing to remember when working with children is to treat them with love and offer simple, realistic ways to incorporate exercise.

Peebles too said children need to have positive encouragement to lose weight and be healthier and doesn't feel that the ads will necessarily convey that message.

"They might be effective to a degree but to the same degree they might make a kid feel really bad," Peebles said.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's website explains that the "warning" campaign is intended to make parents aware of the problem and to get people talking about the problem.

According to the Strong4Life website, 75 percent of parents do not recognize that their child is overweight.

"When we talk about it in the office and when the parent themselves are overweight they don't see the problem," Miller said.

There are myriad reasons why so many children and families are overweight. The convenience and affordability of fast food, increased time in front of the TV and the lack of safe places to play in some low-income neighborhoods all contribute to weight gain.

"I think it's to blame with what our society is becoming with the computer age," Peebles said.

However, the biggest issue with children is diet. Healthy or unhealthy eating habits usually begin with the parents.

"We do the best we can to help them and educate them, but you turn it over and the parent has to take the advice and do what they can with it," Miller said.

The Strong4Life website offers parents tips on ways to live a healthier lifestyle and a body mass index calculator to help parents determine if their child might be at risk.

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