Things are not always so happy in Disney World. Last month, Disney, in partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield, launched an exhibit addressing childhood obesity. The Epcot exhibit has since been closed indefinitely amidst criticism that it is reinforcing societal stigmas about obesity.
Housed in Epcot’s futuristic showcase area, Habit Heroes was created with the goal of educating children about a healthy lifestyle. The exhibit pits the healthy Will Power and Callie Stenics against various unhealthy, junk food eating characters such as Snacker and Lead Bottom.
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.
The Huffington Post reports that Ragen Chastain, a writer and activist who started “Support All Kids” in response to Atlanta’s anti-obesity ads, voiced her concerns about the exhibit. In a blog statement, she expressed, “Disney is supposed to be the happiest place on Earth and now fat kids – who are subjected to a barrage of shaming, humiliating, stigmatizing, and bullying messages from society on a daily basis – will go on vacation and find out that people who look like them are villains who other kids fight for points and bragging rights.”
In response to the criticism, John W. Herbkersmen, a spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield stated, “Our goal is to ensure that the attraction conveys a positive message about healthy lifestyles in a fun and empowering way. To work on further improving and refining the experience, the attraction is closed for the time being.”
The Orlando Sentinel reports that the February opening was a “soft opening” of the exhibit, meant for gathering feedback. The official opening of the exhibit was to be March 5. Currently, Disney is revamping the exhibit. A new opening date has not be projected.