Disney World blunders with anti-obesity exhibit

Frances McInnis
Shine On

Disney World can be the happiest place on earth…as long as your kids are thin.

Disney closed down a three-week-old anti-obesity attraction at its Florida theme park after angry parents, doctors and obesity experts said it was "horrifying" and insensitive.

The exhibit, called "Habit Heroes" and housed at Epcot Center, was co-sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield. Inside the 4,700-square-foot space, kids worked with protagonists Will Power and Callie Stenics to fight bad habits, personified as grotesquely obese villains with names like The Glutton, Lead Bottom and The Snacker.

In one room, kids wielded guns that shot broccoli and apples, aiming to knock out cream puffs and hot dogs. In another, they pressure Lead Bottom into dancing to help him lose weight, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Check out Habit Heroes' dance workout for yourself in the video below.

"The exhibit dumbed down childhood obesity to a choice," says Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a family doctor and founder of Ottawa's Bariatric Medical Institute. "As if kids, or adults, go to bed at night thinking hot damn, I'm going to be lazy and gluttonous rather than active and healthy."

Freedhoff says Disney was right to close Habit Heroes for retooling and suggested that the company—whose theme parks sell hot dogs, ice cream and other calorie-laden treats for pint-sized visitors—could do a lot more to help kids live healthier lives.

He proposed the company "start by taking a corporate stand and loudly and proudly put an end to their practice of licensing their beloved cartoon characters to sell nutritionally bankrupt food to children."

Related: Active video games won't make you kids any fitter, says study

A second problem with Habit Heroes is that the exhibit could make it seem like children are solely to blame for their weight, says Dr. Frank Pasztor, director of the Children's Fitness Centres of Canada. "I'm completely against that," he says, explaining that it's up to parents to set the guidelines for their kids and show them how to lead a healthy life.

"Lead by example, that's number one," he says. "Try to eat right, exercise and promote a healthy lifestyle. We see here at the center that parents who are practicing these principles are the ones who have happy, healthy, fit children."

He also advises parents to provide outlets for children to engage in enjoyable physical activity. During the winter months, that could include visiting indoor pool, play centres or indoor playgrounds, or heading outdoors for some tobogganing or a half-hour at the park.

For now, the Habit Heroes exhibit and website have been shut down indefinitely.

In a statement responding to The Huffington Post's inquiries, Disney said, "In order to work on further improving and refining the experience, we've decided to close the attraction for the time being." The company added, "We look forward to officially opening it soon."