Strong4Life Addresses Growing Number of Children Who Likely Will Become Overweight or Obese Adults

Georgia health care system continues fight against childhood obesity

ATLANTA (Feb. 16, 2012) – Nearly 40 percent of children ages 10 to 17 in Georgia, or almost a million kids, are overweight or obese. Doctors at Georgia-based Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the largest pediatric health care organization in the United States, are on the front lines of the state’s childhood obesity epidemic, treating patients in their Health4Life Clinic as young as 3 years old for complications related to obesity. 

The health care system decided to take a stand by launching Strong4Life in early 2011, a large-scale public awareness campaign, along with programs and partnerships to reach kids where and when they need it. The first phase of the campaign, the “Warning” ads, was designed to raise awareness and spark conversation about childhood obesity. Since the ad campaign launch, the ads and childhood obesity have received significant national and international media attention, sparking passionate conversation about the issue.

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta recently updated the Strong4Life website with webisodes of children and families setting an example by making changes to lead healthier lives. In an effort to continue to raise awareness of the medical crisis, Children's has released a new video titled “Stop the Cycle” that highlights the clinical reality that 80 percent of obese children are likely to become obese adults, according to a 2011 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“The causes of childhood obesity are complex. Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity influenced by factors including family dynamics, school systems and societal norms are all thought to contribute to the issue,” said Dr. Stephanie Walsh, medical director of child wellness at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “But ultimately, we can’t prevent or even treat the health issues associated with childhood obesity if the people caring for our kids don’t recognize that there is a problem.”

The “Warning” ad campaign ran in the pilot markets of Macon and Columbus, Ga., for six weeks in February 2011 and launched in Atlanta in August 2011. In accordance with Children’s plan, the ads ran in metro Atlanta for six weeks and the TV ads stopped airing Oct. 3. Today the billboards and out-of-home advertising can only be found in areas with the highest rate of childhood obesity and, therefore, the most need in Atlanta. 

Preliminary research shows the ads have sparked conversation about the medical crisis, and the reaction to the ads has been primarily positive. In a recent tracking study performed in Atlanta, 80 percent of parents who had seen the ads had a positive reaction to the campaign. Nearly half (48 percent) of the parents surveyed took the time to talk about it with others and 88 percent of parents agree that being overweight can cause serious illness. The dialogue has been spurred by increased awareness in childhood obesity as a serious problem – 96 percent of parents surveyed see childhood obesity as a serious problem in the state of Georgia, up from 73 percent before the campaign began last fall.

“A noteworthy finding in Children’s research is that while 96 percent of respondents viewed childhood obesity as a somewhat or very serious problem, only 28 percent of parents of an obese child considered their child overweight or obese, and only 36 percent were concerned about their child’s weight. This apparent disconnect, known as the ‘perceived personal immunity’ effect, has been documented for issues such as susceptibility to contracting lung cancer, skin cancer, and AIDS,” said Dr. Richard Lutz, JC Penney Professor of Marketing at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business Administration. “This phenomenon underscores the necessity of a public information campaign moving beyond general awareness of an issue to convincing individuals to recognize their personal risk.  Accomplishing this requires powerful messaging over a period of time.”

Today Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is continuing to raise awareness of childhood obesity through videos like “Stop the Cycle” and webisodes that follow the kids from the ad campaign on their journey to wellness. Children’s goal is to move the state of Georgia out of the top 10 list for childhood obesity by 2016.

Simultaneously, Children’s has already begun to implement solutions into communities statewide, including training more than 1,000 health care providers, nurses and dieticians to discuss obesity with their patients; going to more than 100 schools to share with children the importance of healthy eating and physical activity; and educating more than 430 day care center staff to use Strong4Life toolkits to teach healthy habits at an early age. Children’s is also partnering with local mom bloggers to help raise awareness about the issue via social media and help inform the next steps in the movement.

Visit the website for the movement, Strong4Life.com, for updated resources for families and webisodes showing the progress being made by real Georgia families to make healthy lifestyle choices.