A few weeks ago, Walt Disney World’s Epcot installed a new exhibit in Innoventions, a showcase of various exhibits designed to promote new ideas and technologies. The new exhibit, “Habit Heroes,” was a joint effort by Disney and Blue Cross and Blue Shield to combat childhood obesity through interactive games.
In the game, superheroes Will Power and Callie Stenics lead kids and families in the fight against junk food and bad habits, represented through villains with such names as Sweet Tooth, Snacker, and Lead Bottom. In one activity, players wage a “food fight” against Sweet Tooth and Snacker, in which healthy foods like fruits and vegetables knock out junk food like cream puffs and hot dogs. In another activity, using technology similar to the video game “Just Dance,” players get their heart rates up and dance while fighting Lead Bottom. Outside of Innoventions, players could also visit the Habit Heroes site on their computer or smartphone for virtual games, featuring even more villains with such names as Drama Queen (gossiping), Ice Cappuccino (too much caffeine), the Glutton (overeating), and Insecura (lack of self-esteem).
However, this week, the exhibit became a target of controversy, as health professionals and weight researchers, largely from Canada, began petitioning for the exhibit’s immediate closure. The depiction of the villains as overweight and overall fat vs. skinny tone of the exhibit, critics say, causes shame and ridicule in young guests, and should not be the way to present the topic of healthy living.
In Canada, the Binge Eating Disorder Association, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, and a chair of the Canadian Obesity Network have joined together to recognize the exhibit as guilty of “blatant discrimination.” Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a professor at the University of Ottowa and the family medicine chair of the Canadian Obesity Network, calls the exhibit a “gross oversimplification,” saying:
“It’s so dumbfounding it’s unreal. I just can’t believe somebody out there thought it was a good idea to pick up where the school bullies left off and shame kids on their vacation.(…) Disney couldn’t close it down too soon as far as I’m concerned.”
Freedhoff goes on to suggest that a better alternative would be to educate children about such healthy habits as how to read food labels, the exercise required to burn calories, and how they can learn to cook from scratch.
Following news of the controversy, the Habit Heroes website, www.habitheroes.com, has since closed down for maintenance, and the exhibit is currently closed until further notice. It is currently unknown when or if the attraction will reopen in a reworked form.