First Lady's Anti-Obesity Campaign Turned Heavy Children Into Targets, Group Complains

A group calling itself the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) says that when First Lady Michelle Obama created her anti-obesity "Let’s Move!" initiative, she unfairly singled out fat kids, turning them into targets.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Monday, NAAFA public relations director Peggy Howell said the First Lady “essentially gave permission to everyone to condemn the children with higher body weights.”

Howell called Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign “well-intentioned, but somewhat misdirected.”

“What I mean by ‘misdirected’ is that rather than educating and encouraging our nation to create healthy practices for all children, focusing on the health of all our children, children of higher body weight have been singled out and the focus of the campaign is on weight reduction and not on improving children’s health.

Howell said Obama’s campaign marginalizes weighty children and turns them into victims.

“Well, how are they marginalized?” Howell asked. “Studies indicate that children of higher body weight are 65 percent more likely to be bullied than children of lower body weight. When our First Lady said that we have to wipeout childhood obesity in one generation, she essentially gave permission to everyone to condemn the children with higher body weights. How this translates in real life is that these children experience more ridicule, more teasing, more bullying, and the perpetrators feel justified in their actions because after all, the First Lady said these kids have to go.”

Howell said being targets -- whether intended or not -- causes heavy children “pain and suffering” – even depression and suicide.

“When children of higher body weight hear we have to wipeout childhood obesity in one generation, for them those words translate to: we have to eliminate obese children. They hear: your body is bad. They hear: thin equals good, fat equals bad. They hear: your body is bad,” Howell said.

She added: “I believe that it was not the intention of the First Lady to cause more pain and suffering for these children, but I also believe that this is one of the consequences of focusing on reducing body size as opposed to improving health. Other consequences include: poor body image, body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, bullying, disordered eating, depression, lower expectations for future success, and sometimes even suicide.”

Howell’s group held the news conference on Monday to propose an addition to the Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2011, which is a bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate by Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to help prevent bullying in schools.

S. 506 would require states to collect and report information on “the incidence, prevalence, age of onset, perception of health risk, and perception of social disapproval of bullying and harassment by youth in elementary schools and secondary schools and communities in the State.” It also requires schools to adopt anti-bullying discipline policies.

Originally published on August 11 at NewsBusters sister site CNSNews.com.