Childhood Obesity Ads Rely On Fat-Shaming


There are billboards in Georgia featuring black and white photos of overweight children, with phrases like “Chubby kids may not outlive their parents” and “Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did.” It’s part of a new “Stop Child Obesity” campaign in the state, and there are YouTube videos as well as a website, featurning heartbreaking footage of the kids talking about food, or their health. According to WRBL News 3:

Some viewers have expressed concern […] over the self-esteem of children involved in the ads and those children looking at the ads. The kids selected for the ad campaign have real stories; however, they are paid actors.

Still, it seems rather cruel to single out a few kids, magnify their faces and splash them over giant signs along the road. But Ron Frieson — cabinet chair of the Georgia Children’s Health Alliance and the man behind the campaign — says: “Our studies show that kids want the straight talk. They want to understand what the issue is, and that’s the message that we’re actually delivering to those kids.”

Not surprisingly, many doubt that the campaign will be effective. In a piece on The Huffington Post, Rebecca Puhl, a Yale University psychologist who is a leading expert on weight discrimination says: “Stigma is not an effective motivator.” And:

“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.”

In other words, the ads could backfire. In addition, they are fodder for bullies, and this country is definitely struggling with kid-on-kid crime. Members of Congress recently introduced a bill that addressed bullying based on race, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation and religion. But Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, questions: “Why are weight and height missing? Multiple studies indicate that fat children are the group being most bullied.”

When it comes right down to it, the inherent negativity in the ads is troubling. The ads do not offer inspiration, guidance or helpful suggestions. And, even worse: They essentially tell kids who may see themselves in the child actors: There’s something wrong with you. Life is a test, and you’re failing. If people treat you badly, you deserve it. Is that any way to speak to a child?

Chairman Behind Obesity Billboards Talks [WRBL News 3]
Do Georgia’s Child Obesity Ads Go Too Far? [Huffington Post]

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