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Disney Closes ‘Habit Heroes’ Exhibit After Critics Claim It Stigmatizes Obese Children

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Photo Credit:  Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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ORLANDO, Fla. (CBS Tampa/AP) — A new exhibit in Epcot Center at Walt Disney World has been temporarily closed after trial audiences said it stigmatized overweight and obese children as lazy.

After unofficially opening to the public, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance took aim at its message, which reportedly portrayed fat children as the perpetrators of unhealthy living.

“We’re appalled to learn that Disney, a traditional hallmark of childhood happiness and joy, has fallen under the shadow of negativity and discrimination,” NAAFA said in a release. “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.”

Peggy Howell, public relations director for NAAFA, told CBS Tampa that she had seen the website before it was shut down, and that characters depicted portrayed fat persons in an unflattering light.

“The stereotypes they are using are very similar to some of the things used to torment fat kids when they are bullied at school,” she asserts. “This kind of depiction of bad habits only reinforces those negative stereotypes [of overweight and obese people].”

Disney spokesperson Kathleen Prihoda told CBS Tampa that the only aim of the exhibit was to reinforce the positive attributes of an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits.

“The goal [of the exhibit] was to portray a positive message about healthy lifestyles in a fun and empowering way,” she explained.

The interactive exhibit featured animated fitness superheroes Will Power and Callie Stenics and super-sized villains Snacker and Lead Bottom, who eat junk food and watch too much television. Critics said the exhibit reinforces stereotypes that obese children are lazy and have poor eating habits.

“They have a picture … of a middle-aged guy, wider than he is tall,dressed in a suit like a gangster, called ‘The Glutton,'” Howell said, citing an example of an issue NAAFA had with the exhibit. “He’s not eating or moving – it’s just a big fat guy standing there. Someone on the run stuffing a cheeseburger in their mouth could have shown gluttony, rather than just a big fat guy standing there.”

Habit Heroes was made available in conjunction with Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Anthem Health as part of a soft open, a practice used by theme parks to collect guest opinions.

“We heard feedback on Habit Heroes from a variety of sources, and it’s under consideration,” Prihoda added.

The exhibit is currently closed, with no official opening date set at this time. Both the activities in the exhibit, and the ways the healthy message is conveyed, are reportedly under review.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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