#Ashamed Twitter Chat Puts Pressure on Georgia’s Strong4Life Childhood Obesity Campaign

It might be Friday, but we stayed in tonight. We participated in Leah Segedie’s Twitter chat, #Ashamed, to raise awareness for the Georgia advertising campaign by Strong4Life attempting to curb the rampant childhood obesity epidemic in the state. If we’d been at the bar like everyone else celebrating TGIF it would have been standing room only. According to Leah there were 544 people tweeting on #Ashamed tonight. “I worked harder on that party than any I’ve ever done,” Leah told us shortly after the chat ended.

To show just how powerful social media is, or maybe how powerful Leah Segedie at BookieBoo and Mamavation is, this Twitter chat was organized practically over night and had a lot of interest, as that count of 544 shows. Additionally, Leah shared other stats, like 13 million impressions and 4859 tweets posted in the one-hour chat.

Leah told us she had two goals for #Ashamed. “First, to petition Strong 4 Life to take the billboards down. Second, to talk about the issue in a way that’s not shameful and gets the word out.” The public outcry over this campaign has been loud enough that some have already been taken down. The hope is that tonight’s nearly 600 voices on Twitter will remove them from the remaining areas, like Atlanta.

“Just take the damn things down,” Leah shouted. “It’s over and done with.”

We’ve been outspoken about our distaste in the ads since they first ran earlier this month. Bold black and white images of overweight children are shown with guilt-inducing text. In one, featuring an elementary-aged girl with a frown, the message reads “WARNING: Being Fat Takes the Fun Out of Being a Kid.” The stark imagery and emotional message is supposed to reach the parents of the 1 million obese children in Georgia. However, our concern, and the one shared by most participants on #Ashamed, is that kids are going to see this message in a more detrimental way than their parents. And then what?

“The ones who were paying attention are the kids because it’s another child up there,” Leah said.

During #Ashamed we Tweeted that “[The kids] don’t know how they got there, don’t know how fix it. need parents. #Ashamed.” The general consensus during the chat tonight was that you leave kids who are already feeling shame, doubt, and ridicule wondering what they’ve done wrong and few, if any, know how to correct course. Leah can relate.

“I was overweight as a child. The first thing I wanted to do when I saw the ads was crawl in bed, hide from the world, and eat a Twinkie,” she told us. “It took me to a place in my life when I was depressed and ridiculed at school.” Leah doesn’t want that for the children of Georgia; none of us do.

The #Ashamed chat incited a lively conversation full of questions, ideas, and frustrations with not only the ad campaign but the overall status of childhood obesity in the nation. Some uplifting and disappointing realities about American schools were shared, like these from participants.

@Mom2Winnie “They grow food at my nieces school and the kids help with the garden! #ashamed”

@ADDhousewife “Our kids don’t have recess at school. It is so necessary especially in the younger grades. #ashamed”

A lot of suggestions were made for the use of the $25 million dollars Strong4Life is working with (expected to grow to $50 million in the next five years, according to Leah via conversations with the organization’s social media manager Patty Gregory). Improving school lunches, re-introducing PE and recess (a luxury available at “Only 4% of elementary schools,” according to CharitySub), and developing health-focused curriculum, like in-school gardens, were some of the best ideas shared for improving the health of our children on the school level. At home, where we argue much of the responsibility lies, many ideas were shared for making better use of the multi-million dollar budget. Ideas were shared for empowering moms and dads, educating them on fitness and nutrition, and making accessible the food, fitness outlets (like a suggestion for walking trails), and nutrition tools and information they need to build healthy kids and families inside their own four walls.

Some great ideas that were shared include:

@LiveLoveMom “Our elementary recently opted out of a fundraiser and did a Walk-a-thon and kids raised money for each lap they did.”

@AskDocG “Farm visits also energize kid about great healthy food, making it fun!”

@TypeAMom “[our school] does, too! My kids love gardening, and will eat the vegetables they grow!”

Early in the #Ashamed chat, @AlexandraFunFit tweeted “I believe @strong_4_life had good intentions; bad focus groups.” Leah echoed that sentiment when we spoke following the chat.

“I agree with the motives; I disagree with the implementation.” She says by doing the #Ashamed chat that we did their homework for them. She’s “infuriated” by the thought that she doesn’t think they tested the ads, a standard marketing practice, saying she can’t imagine a scene where they had children in the room who saw the ads and left feeling good about themselves.

Strong4Life representative Patty Gregory let us know that they did conduct focus groups prior to the campaign launch. She cited “16 focus groups and more than 2,300 telephone interviews” with parents of children aged 4-15 and children aged 8-15.

Does she think #Ashamed worked and that Strong4Life heard the roar of the mom and health blog community? “They heard us loud and clear!,” she announced. “I told them we were coming,” and she was happy to see that Strong4Life participated. Leah was also not surprised that they did so without using the #Ashamed hashtag, after all, “they had 544 people yelling at them.” In fact, the only time they used the dedicated hashtag was to sign-off and thank participants. “This has been great. Thanks for allowing us to take part! #not #ashamed.”

Gregory also told us that “We absolutely heard the conversation,” in a post-#Ashamed email response. “It was so exciting to see that dialogue taking place and there were some great suggestions about what we can all do to help our children.”

Leah’s conversations with Gregory have been positive, she said. In fact, there are plans for the organization to work more closely with social media influencers in the next phase of the campaign. Leah described a panel of influential social media moms based in Georgia that Strong4Life wants to create “to look at [marketing] plans to ensure people and children aren’t harmed in the process.”

We’ve talked about it, Leah’s talked about it, and even Today show has talked about it, where Dr. Nancy Snyderman boldly declared that childhood obesity “will kill us as a nation.” We can only hope that all this talk leads to a lot of walking on the part of Strong4Life and the result is a much more educational, actionable, and empowering message that comes with the resources Georgian moms, dads, and schools need to makeover one of the most unhealthiest states in the union.

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