Disney’s Childhood Obesity Exhibit a Disaster


We’re interrupting our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a special alert.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist as Dr.Deah’s blog The Not So Wonderful World of Disney reminded me so much of my childhood watching Disney’s show on television, enthralled by stories and images that made a child’s heart sing.

They’re not doing too well these days with that for kids who find themselves in the new Epcot exhibit on childhood obesity.  Or who happen to stumble upon Disney’s related online program Habit Heroes that calls out bad guys such as a fat fairy named Snacker and the gangster named Glutton.

Developed in collaboration with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the program intends to promote health.  But like so many people and organizations (such as Strong4Life, producers of the now infamous fat-kid-shaming billboards in Georgia) that do not understand the issue of childhood obesity (naming one of the major characters Will Power is strong proof of that), it ends up shaming larger kids instead.  And it can make smaller kids start worrying about weight, and set up future weight struggles for both.

To say nothing of the hypocrisy involved in some of the advice.  This from the Binge Eating Disorder Association,

Disney is capitalizing on the “War on Obesity” to shame kids and then offer them every type of fast-food available in their parks. We do not believe food should be demonized, and if the program is going to show broccoli (good guys) shooting hotdogs (bad guys), perhaps some broccoli should be offered along with millions of hotdogs sold in the parks yearly.

BEDA issued a call to action yesterday that we’re jumping on board with.  And hope you do, too.

Let your voice be heard! Make phone calls, write letters, begin an on-line petition, or contribute your picture to I Stand Against Weight Bullying. [See Green Mountain’s picture here.]

  • Blog, blog, blog
  • Post this call to action on Facebook and Twitter
  • Reach out to professional organizations and others to ask them to join with us
  • Reach out to reporters and news organizations you may have contacts within
  • Call Epcot Center: 407-824-2222 and register a complaint about Innovations at Epcot and specifically the Habit Heroes Exhibit
  • Call Disney Corporate Headquarters: 407-354-2754
  • Write Disney Corporate Headquarters:

Attention: Kristin Nolt Wingard
Senior VP of Public Affair
1375 Buena Vista Drive
Lake Buena Vista, Florida 32830

  • Email Disney’s Communications Dept: TWDC.Corp.Communications@disney.com

Finally, I want to share this example of an excellent letter written by Barbara Altman Bruno, PhD, LCSW, a leader in the Health at Every Size® movement.

Dear Disney:

Imagine a world where children of all sizes are accepted and valued.  Apparently not at Epcot.

Depression, despair, bullying, disordered eating, and other unhealthy practices will be increased for children of all sizes who view Epcot’s Habit Heroes exhibit–thanks to you, Florida Blue, and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Elephants, giraffes, chihuahuas:  are any of these animals bad because of their natural sizes?  What did the elephant do wrong?  What did the giraffe do right?

We don’t have much, if any, control over our body size.  We do not know how to make fatter people of all ages thinner, except temporarily.  So stop picking on fatter people!

At all sizes, however, we can aim to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; nurture our bodies, and enjoy activity.  Especially in a world where we are all accepted and valued, at all sizes.  I recommend that you explore principles and practices of Health at Every Size®.  And I strongly suggest that you remove Habit Heroes caricatures while you rethink the purpose and consequences of the exhibit.

Sincerely yours,

Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D., LCSW


Signing off to go write my letter but first encouraging you to do so, too.  Your effort will help kids of all sizes better care for their bodies and live happier, more fulfilled lives as a result.

10 responses to “Disney’s Childhood Obesity Exhibit a Disaster”

  1. Thank you, Marsha for spreading the word about this disastrous campaign by Disney. Since when does hate bring about change?

  2. Kim says:

    It’s just unreal what children already have to go through when they are out of the “norm” in comparision to their peers. This is just one more way they can be taunted and torchured. Now there are character’s with names that they can be called. This only gives more power to the bullies and name callers because they see their own prejudice being backed up and endorsed by a name as large as Disney. What a shame. Everyone should be writing letters to get this addressed.

  3. Sarah says:

    This kind of psychological bullying will solve nothing at all. They should do a campaign for parents to tell them that they are killing their kids to feed them the way they do. This campaign only shows that some people working for Disney don’t realize that obesity is not the child’s fault but the result of their parents’ inability to give them the care they need. Today’s parents are so busy that they rarely find time to be with their children. They all too often neglect the fact that children need to interact and cooperate with others in order to develop healthy relationships later in life. The natural result then can really be the child’s inability to manage stress which may finally lead to problems such as obesity or other diseases. That’s why I always tried to find some new activities to encourage the natural development of my chiIdren and visited as many baby-centers in Toronto as possible when my children were born. I discovered a number of funny ways to build a strong relationship and I always try to spend as much of my free time as possible with them to avoid similar problems in their adolescence.

  4. Marsha says:

    Good news, everyone. The exhibit has been closed as well as the online program. According to a friend who has been involved in this, they’re “rethinking” it.

  5. Julie says:

    I must say that although this could come across as insensitive, it is frightening the childhood obesity is becoming socially acceptable. Kids that are overweight are now viewed as “the norm”, overweight babies just have “cute chubby cheeks” and overweight children are consistently told it’s not their fault. As an exercise physiologist who works with both an adult and juvenile population this is concerning. People need to realize a simple fact….being obese means death. Parents and children alike should view this as a wake up call. Being obese is just as acceptable as cancer. When we embrace obesity as a society it becomes hard to convince people that they need to change either physically or psychologically.

  6. Jeff H says:

    “We don’t have much, if any, control over our body size” Who in the hell thought this line up? Every human being can take control of their life if they want to. It took me 55 years to learn this and try to start changing my lifestyle. So you morons complaining to Disney about child obesity need to get your heads out of the sand! Instead of wasting time attacking Disney and bullies, spend this exclusive time by educating the parents and obese children! I’ve been obese all of my life, I’ve been called fat all my life by idiots, but I never thought I was bullied! I wish someone had bullied me when I was younger, so that I might not have the health problems I do today! Thanks to my obesity throughout my life, which I always laughed away! I have neuropathy, depression, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes 2 and the rest of the problems that goes with these! Also people who make bad food aren’t the problem; it’s the amount of bad food that people eat. Bad food can be eaten at times, just not a continuous diet of bad food. Treating one’s self at times is enormously fundamental to a happy life! I agree with one comment I read here. The PARENTS ARE to Blame!!!!!

  7. Cft says:

    Maybe disney went about it the wrong way but they had the right concept. Childern and adults at an alarming rate are headed towards some serious health issues if this is not gotten under control. My son was an obese /fat kid and I tried everything and what I did not give him at home he would get elsewhere. To make matters worse his father and I were divorced and when my son would spend time with his father he would let him eat anything and everything he wanted. Fortunately today at the age of 22 he works out and has much better eating habits and has lost the weight.

  8. Matt says:

    This protest is ridiculous. I work with children and see the ill effects of childhood obesity every single day. It is in no way acceptable and is a result of lifestyle choices. I have seen even special needs children become almost dependent on fast food. We need to teach children to eat right AND work out. This exhibit helps accomplish both and is an asset to Disney World. It is the parents who are failing here by feeding their children horrible foods and not being accountable for the Type 2 diabetes that children inevitably going to encounter at a young age.

  9. Sam says:

    Quote from a similar article-

    “Critics said the exhibit reinforces stereotypes that obese children are lazy and have poor eating habits.”


    I am not obese, but for a very long time I was overweight. All I can tie it to are laziness and bad eating. Now, at sixteen, I’ve finally made a change and I’m dropping weight faster than you can say ‘fat’. All I did was change my diet, tracking my calories and nutrients, and I started working out.

    The exhibit reinforces the fact that going around eating McDonald’s every other day and sitting on your butt in front of the TV is GOING to make you fat. As a society, America has all of a sudden accepted, even exemplified this lifestyle. This is incorrect. As long as we keep sheltering our kids and never telling them that they’re fat, they’ll stay fat! This exhibit was a wonderful idea, and I am saddened to see so many sensitive American wusses shooting it down.

  10. Marsha says:

    Thanks to everyone for their comments. I do want to respond to a few specific comments.

    – “being obese means death.” Julie, this is not true at all. The National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey showed that over 30% of people who fall into the “obese” category according to BMI are metabolically healthy. That means their blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, etc., are all perfectly fine. Obesity only becomes associated with ill health when unhealthy behaviors or other factors, such as hormonal imbalances for example, underlie it. In those cases, obesity is a symptom just like other health problems. So targeting the obesity instead of the behaviors sets people up for feeling bad about themselves, especially when they are larger people naturally and will always fall into the higher BMI ranges even with the healthiest lifestyle possible. That is called weight stigma, and it drives ill health instead of improving health.

    – “We don’t have much control, if any, over our body size.” The issue here, Jeff H, is adopting healthy attitudes and behaviors and letting our bodies settle at their natural, healthy weight. We don’t have control over what our natural, healthy weight is — that’s set. We can drive our bodies outside that (either above or below) but then it’s not healthy. Focusing on our behaviors instead of our body size allows for a much more sustainable, happier way to live.

    – “Parents are to blame.” I think it’s a much larger issue, and blaming doesn’t help anyone. I agree education is key but our educators also need to be clear on their messages. And at this point, messages are focused on weight, not behaviors, which I and others strongly believe is misplaced due to reasons already mentioned.

    – “this exhibit is an asset to Disney World.” If Disney really wants to walk the talk, they need to look at the foods they’re offering at their park. French fries and the like are fine, but where are the apples, etc.?

    – “as long as we keep sheltering our kids and never telling them they’re fat, they’ll stay fat.” Many will stay fat regardless because their natural, healthy body size is just that (see my comments above). Telling them they’re fat will only shame them into feeling bad about themselves and make it harder for them to feel motivated to take care of themselves, and live a fulfilled life. Let’s focus on our behaviors, NOT our size. It will make us all healthier, regardless of our size.

    – “the Type 2 diabetes that children are inevitably going to encounter at a young age.” About 12 of 100,000 children aged 11-14 have type 2 diabetes, according to 2007 data. It is virtually non-existent in younger children. Compare that to the 2700 out of 100,000 kids that develop eating disorders. When we diet, which is the result of a focus on weight, we increase risk of developing an eating disorder at least five-fold (with severe dieting, the numbers skyrocket). If we focus on behaviors — helping kids put in place behaviors that are fundamental to taking good care of themselves — we’ll target both the risk of type 2 diabetes and eating disorders, and do it without increasing risk of one over the other.

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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