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The Globe and Mail

Do these childhood obesity ads go too far?

Two out of every 10 American kids are overweight and that number, along with their waistlines, is likely going to get larger in 2012.

It's time for parents to realize that the obesity buck stops with them - at least according to a bold new public health initiative in Georgia. Created by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta , the Strong4Life campaign is a hard-hitting response to a survey that revealed that 75 per cent of parents with overweight kids didn't see the emotional and physical toll it was taking on them.

"Warning: It's hard to be a little girl if you're not," reads one controversial ad.

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"Ignoring the problem is what got us here," says the campaign's Facebook page. "It's time to wake up."

But while the videos and billboards are making people take notice, they're also being accused of doing more harm than good. "This is APPALLING," wrote one Facebook commenter. "Fear-based, shame-based tactics like these are not only cruel and hurtful, (but) research has demonstrated again and again that they're downright ineffective when it comes to promoting behaviour change."

For some parents, the videos are just the wake-up call they needed to tap into the information network and experts on Strong4Life's website , part of a $50-million program to be rolled out over the next five years.

"They are in your face," one mother of an overweight teen told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "But I know, for me, I was not offended by it. I was more like - oh, my gosh, that's right."

"I think it's really brave to talk about the elephant in the room," added Maya Walters, a teen featured in the campaign who has since made lifestyle changes to lower her hypertension. "It's very provocative and makes people uncomfortable, but it's when people are uncomfortable that change comes."

Are parents to blame for the childhood obesity epidemic? How effective is a campaign like this?

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