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What Are We Thinking? Or Are We?

June 13, 2011

Are Georgia’s anti-obesity ads unfair to fat kids?

Uuuggghhhh. Above are some advertisements from Georgia’s new anti-obesity campaign at Stopchildhoodobesity.org, featuring overweight children with demeaning slogans beneath them. Let me just put it out there now and say that I find these ads repulsive, for a multitude of reasons, and a psychologist featured in the linked article most articulately explains why:

“Stigma is not an effective motivator,” said Rebecca Puhl, a Yale University psychologist who is an expert on weight discrimination. “Whether children or adults, if they are teased or stigmatized, they’re much more likely to engage in unhealthy eating and avoidance of physical activity.”

“Youth who are obese cannot conceal their weight – their stigma is very visible,” she said. “And yet their voices are not being heard. They are so vulnerable to victimization, with such devastating consequences.”
She also has examined how obese people are portrayed in ads, news reports, movies and TV shows. Too often, says Puhl, they are depicted in needlessly negative ways – slouching on a sofa, eating junk food.

“We need to be sure we are fighting obesity, not obese people,” she says.

Who is being targeted here, with this ad campaign? Kids or parents? Are we supposed to regard these solemn young faces as victims or perpetrators? And what exactly are the psychological tactics motivating this campaign–SHAME? Fear? Humiliate children into potentially and likely developing eating disorders and body image issues? There is a reason we do not see billboards featuring ads that deal with anorexia or bulimia: they are private, personal diseases that need private, personal attention and not public humiliation. And what is the proposed solution? Continue to publicly ridicule these young people instead of educating and assisting them in their purported struggle? What could possibly be a positive outcome of this–these children or other children will see their faces plastered across highways and think to themselves “Oh, I don’t look so hot. Time for a lifestyle change!” REALLY PEOPLE?!?!

Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign is working to “eliminate childhood obesity by helping parents make better food choices, serving healthier food in schools, and encouraging children to exercise more.” (Cbsnews.com) The First Lady began this movement, according to the project’s website, because

“In the end, as First Lady, this isn’t just a policy issue for me. This is a passion. This is my mission. I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition.”

There are many positive messages in this, and the movement has already brought awareness to many issues and communities that would not be reached otherwise. According to the cbsnews.com article, “supporters note that one in three American children are overweight or obese, putting them at high risk of serious health problems while billions of dollars are spent yearly treating obesity-related conditions.” Clearly serious changes need to be made on individual, community, and societal levels, but public shaming is just not the answer.

One of my current favorite blogs, The Great Fitness Experiment (by blogger and author Charlotte Hilton Andersen) did a great post recently on “How to Help a Child Lose Weight.” She featured this ad campaign, along with impressive and thoughtful suggestions on “What To Do” and “What Not To Do” t0 help your child lose weight. Definitely check out this post, and the blog in general. It’s fabulous. Here are some of the truly fantastic tips she gives, that given the work I’ve done with overweight and obese kids I’ve definitely seen to be constructive and compassionate when put into action:

— “Being overweight does not make someone lazy, dirty, dishonest or even necessarily unhealthy. Especially with children we need to teach them that they are wonderful miraculous beings no matter what they look like.”

— “Don’t ban treats. There’s a place for everything and as most of us know, telling someone they can never eat another Caramello bar will only drive them straight into its gooey chocolately arms for a farewell deep throat kiss.”

— “It shouldn’t be a diet, it should be healthy food and we should all eat food that helps our bodies and minds work at their best whether or not we need to lose weight.”

Does the Georgia ad campaign even begin to broach any of these? Or any useful, compassionate ways to approach weight issues whatsoever? Stopchildhoodobesity.org, you’re what should be publicly shamed.

 

(Images courtesy of the State of Georgia’s new childhood obesity campaign and cbsnews.com)

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2011 7:42 pm

    Love this!! I totally agree and I’m impressed with your compassionate take on it. Thank you so much for citing my post – that means a lot to me! I was nervous to put that one up since it is such a sensitive issue and the last thing I wanted to do was hurt a child or the parents. Thank you!!

  2. anvancafitcoach permalink
    June 14, 2011 1:37 am

    Very well written. I couldn’t agree more with your points. This type of campaign can have a significant, negative impact on a child’s self-esteem and body image, which can affect them long after – even if the weight is lost.

  3. Martin permalink
    June 14, 2011 7:36 pm

    It seem like the Georgia folks behind this believe that it is okay to bully children, even off the school yard. Is our society actually accepting of bullying if the victim is a child, or an “overweight” person of any age?

  4. Julius permalink
    June 17, 2011 5:21 am

    Right on! Very well said. As a former obese child, I would be devastated to see these ads, when childhood obesity is such a complex issue with so many variables. Thank you for shedding light to this and for providing a nuanced critique!

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