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Disney shuts down, retools obesity exhibit after critics complain

Flickr/sanctumsolitude
epcot, disney world
Flickr/sanctumsolitude

(CBS/AP) Walt Disney World calls itself the "happiest place on earth." But its latest Epcot exhibit, Habit Heroes, could have made obese children unhappy, critics say. After receiving complaints about the exhibit shortly after its unofficial opening in February, the park closed it down and is retooling the attraction.

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Habit Heroes 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 these characters are insensitive and reinforce stereotypes that obese children are lazy and have poor eating habits.

Obesity can sometimes be attributed to genetics and certain medications, and food can be used as a coping mechanism, doctors say.

"We're appalled to learn that Disney, a traditional hallmark of childhood happiness and joy, has fallen under the shadow of negativity and discrimination," the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance said in a statement.

"I was really disturbed to see the most negative habits were attached to really fat bodies," Peggy Howell, a spokeswoman for the group, said after viewing a companion website. "These pictures further the stigma against people of higher body weight."

Some doctors agreed.

"It's so dumbfounding it's unreal," Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an assistant professor of family medicine, told the Calgary Herald. "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."

The official opening has been postponed indefinitely, the Orlando Sentinel reported Thursday.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield partnered with Disney to create the exhibit. Blue Cross spokesman John W. Herbkersman said the exhibit was meant to be helpful.

"Our goal is to ensure that the attraction conveys a positive message about healthy lifestyles in a fun and empowering way," Herbkersman said. "To work on further improving and refining the experience, the attraction is closed for the time being. We look forward to officially opening it soon."

Added Disney spokeswoman Kathleen Prihoda: "That's why we have a soft opening. So we can open it up to others and listen. We've heard the feedback."

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, according to the CDC. Obese kids are at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, bone and joint problems, social and psychological problems, and many types of cancer.

Healthy lifestyle habits, such as healthy eating and physical activity, are the best way to prevent or eliminate obesity.