I’ve always wondered what it must feel like to watch an obesity-related story on the news and recognize yourself in the B-roll footage of random fat people walking around the mall or eating ice cream cones. Does it shame you into changing your ways? Perhaps. But I’m guessing it probably just sends you back for another scoop.
Same thing with health department ads featuring glasses of soda in the form of liquid lard, or a closeup of a woman’s back fat rolls. The message? You’re fat! You’re disgusting! You should be mired in self loathing!
It’s exhausting. It’s demoralizing. Pass the biscuits.
The underlying theme with all the hateful messages and negative imagery seems to be fear. People are afraid of being fat. And if people are afraid of you as an overweight person, can’t you leverage that fear into power?
That seems to be the message of this terrifying video created by the NYC Health Department that goes with the above image (warning: it is hard to watch.)
Not only is this campaign disgusting, it also assumes that people are idiots. Does anyone actually think soda is good for them? Of course not. You don’t need to see soda turned into human fat to know that third can of Coke might be a bad idea.
As Briana recently wrote on Blisstree:
“Of course, public health initiatives should do a lot more than just remind people to put down their Big Macs; they should also make it easier and more appealing to get a plate of steamed vegetables than a burger and fries.”
According to government data, more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese. Much like one diet and exercise plan won’t work for every person, neither will one type of public health initiative.
But how about we just try some positive messages? Testimonials from people who lost weight and improved their lives through a sensible diet and a reasonable amount of exercise. I’m not talking intimidating or unrealistic P90X-style results, but regular people who started walking every morning or ditched their morning donut habit and feel good about losing weight or lowering their blood pressure, even if they don’t have “bikini bodies.”
It’s time to go beyond messages that just say, “Hey, you’re fat. So, stop it.” What about actionable items, like suggesting a 15-minute walk a few times a day, or swapping unsweetened herbal tea for a triple mocha latte? Yes, there is some value in shocking people into the realization that their weight could have deleterious effects, but once you get their attention, you have to help them take the next step.
In politics, candidates are criticized when they go negative with their ads, and the strategy often backfires. Negative ads are viewed as cheap fear-mongering, and it’s often a desperate attempt to scare or disgust people. Still, that’s what most anti-obesity messaging is. Instead of enticing people with ads about fun physical activities they could do if they got into shape, ads are basically telling you that you’re doomed to soon die a hellacious death from any number of miserable obesity-related illnesses.
We Americans love happy endings and tales of triumph over adversity even more than we love our trans fats. Be it the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team or Ted Williams, we’re rooting for the underdogs. So when it comes to the obesity epidemic in our country, it’s time to ditch the negative ads, stop being bullies and start being cheerleaders.