Opinions “R” Us — on Disney and Childhood Obesity

Mural inside Cinderella's Castle

Holy guacamole, did Disney ever step in it! Up to the neck! All they did was open up a new attraction called Habit Heroes, where kids could fight characters who symbolize their own bad habits, and the fertilizer hit the air-circulation device. Everybody on the planet is chiming in with something to say about this.

Of course, very few people have done more than look at YouTube where, along with visuals, a video clip offers extensive samples of the audio track that visitors to Disney World actually heard, and gives a pretty good sense of what the game is about. (The retro illustration on this page is worlds apart from the immersive technology of Habit Heroes, yet strangely reminiscent. In the tapestry, Cinderella tries on the glass slipper. If her foot is too fat, she will not live happily ever after!)

For The Imperfect Parent, Melissa Schwartz outlines the controversy:

Critics charge that the exhibit shows negative habits associated mainly with overweight individuals. The exhibit focuses on overweight people engaging in unhealthy habits and did not show that people of all body types engage in harmful habits. Critics further explain that obesity is not always caused by unhealthy habits and also may result from genetics and medication.

Stacy Schilling explains the offense and predicts the dire fate of the total Magic Kingdom boycott:

The images depict three villain characters with an over — exaggerating body type that immediately associates them with being bad. Each background scene stereotypes what type of food a fat person eats such as cake and potato chips along with how their home looks — messy and unkept as if the person does not care and lives a filthy lifestyle… In a sense, Disney’s images are telling parents and children that a fat person is bad and is not clean… Hopefully Disney’s mistake won’t make park visitors say goodbye permanently to visiting their theme parks.

Marni Jameson of the Orlando Sentinel reported that the March 5 official opening of the interactive exhibit has been postponed, and it is now closed with no reopening date projected. Blue Cross and Blue Shield are partners in the enterprise, and their spokesperson issued a statement about improving and refining the experience offered by the amusement park attraction.

Apparently, this was in reaction to a statement issued by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, whose knickers were all in a twist:

We’re appalled to learn that Disney, a traditional hallmark of childhood happiness and joy, has fallen under the shadow of negativity and discrimination. It appears that Disney now believes that using the tool of shame, favored so much by today’s healthcare corporations, is the best way to communicate with children. Disney, in partnering with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, has taken the side of the bullies.

For TIME magazine, Aylin Zafar wrote:

It’s not necessarily the theory of the exhibit that has people up in arms, but rather its execution… What would make all the difference is if the exhibit portrayed the realities of unhealthy habits; there are children of all shapes and sizes, ethnicities and ages, who practice bad habits. And often, those who make healthier choices may not appear like what society has deemed to look ‘healthy.’… Disney’s heart may have been in the right place, but like the adage goes: it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Newspapers in New Zealand, Canada, Venezuela, and the United Kingdom are reporting on this. Some observers are calling the attraction a stigmatizing “tool of shame,” and some are betting that it will never reopen.

In response to what he calls a profound Internet uproar, blogger Don Surber offers these insights via Charleston, WV’s Daily Mail, in a column titled “Disney drops propaganda site,” referring to the Habit Heroes website which has also been inactivated. He writes:

It seems people don’t like their overweight kids being depicted as fat, lazy slobs who sit around their rooms eating potato chips and playing video games… Leave the parenting to the parents. Not they they are doing such a good job — they aren’t, look at all the problem children they are raising — but because that is their job. You don’t wipe out a dozen years of bad parenting with a trip to a theme park and a video game.

And what about the voice of the people? MSNBC set up a poll, asking “Do you think Disney’s obesity exhibit was insensitive?” As of press time, only 21% said yes, and nearly 79% insisted that no, Habit Heroes was not insensitive. A website specializing in the exposure of human stupidity deplores the “political correctness” copout that allows the continuance of a worldwide epidemic that destroys both health and national budgets, saying:

The few hormonally disturbed fat children as an excuse for the 95% children that ARE lazy and have POOR eating habits… Well, maybe shaming could help prevent the use of food as coping mechanism. Tough love, shaming and strong pressure to eat right could probably save lots of children and adults from a life of fatness and ill health.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Disney childhood obesity exhibit closed after controversy,” Imperfect Parent, 03/01/12
Source: “Disney is accused of discrimination against fat kids with new exhibit,” Examiner.com, 03/01/12
Source: “Disney closes new Habit Heroes exhibit after criticism for stigmatizing fat kids,” OrlandoSentinel.com, 02/29/12
Source: “Disney Closes Anti-Obesity Exhibit Amid Critical Backlash,” TIME.com, 03/02/12
Source: “Disney drops propaganda site,” DailyMail.com, 03/02/12
Source: “Do you think Disney’s obesity exhibit was insensitive?,” msnbc.msn.com, 03/01/12
Source: “Disney retools obesity exhibit,” Human Stupidity, March 2012
Image by FlipPoker (Edwin Torres), used under its Creative Commons license.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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