• Tue, Jan 3 2012

“Fat-Shaming” Childhood Obesity Ads Are Painful But Necessary

georgia childhood obesity ad fat shamingGeorgia has the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the country, and some child healthcare advocates say ignoring the problem is what got them there. In order to get people to “wake up,” they’re airing a new ad that’s sparking a lot of controversy for “fat-shaming” young kids, but as painful as it is, it’s necessary for people see this epidemic from a child’s point of view.

The public service announcements were created by Strong4Life, an organization whose goal is to combat Georgia’s childhood obesity problem. They started airing their “in your face” campaigns last year and drew heavy criticism for being more fat-shaming than supportive. Regardless, they’re continuing to air ads like this one, featuring a little girl “Tina” who admits:

I don’t like going to school because all the other kids pick on me. It hurts my feelings.

Critics like Donny Deutsch on the Today show this morning have slammed the ads for making kids feel even worse about themselves:

I think that’s one of the worst ads I’ve ever seen. Let’s say there’s a child at home who is a little overweight and they feel great about themselves. You’re putting an image up there that says, ‘You shouldn’t feel good.’

But Star Jones defends the ad by saying it’s true:

Being a fat person, I learned to lie to everybody when I said, ‘Oh, I feel so great.’ I didn’t feel great. I couldn’t walk. So when you’re obese, you can’t walk, you cannot breathe, you are weighing down your limbs.

So what’s the right way to solve the childhood obesity problem? In the state of Georgia alone, one million children are obese, and at least on a large scale, other methods don’t seem to be working. Yes, I have talked about certain ads like this being more “fat shaming” than effective in the past, but this particular one hits home for me.

As the founder of Girls on the Run of NE Florida, I have worked with and coached hundreds of kids over the years, and you know what? Those kids who are overweight or obese do feel differently about themselves, whether they openly discuss it or not. Our running and self-esteem-building program helps girls accomplish the goal of running a 5K while inspiring more confidence and self-worth. But the girls who were obese really do struggle–not only to run, but to build greater confidence. Not all of them, but many. It made me want to cry when I saw the embarrassment in their eyes because they couldn’t move as fast or as far as some of the other girls.

It’s a shame that it’s come to a point in our society where we need ads like this to get people’s attention. But parents need to wake up and see how being grossly overweight or obese affects their child. As much as the parents may tell them it doesn’t matter, clearly, in their eyes, it does.

Take a look at this ad and let us know what you think:

 

Photo: strong4life.org

 

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  • Danielle

    I don’t see this as fat shaming. It’s calling attention to a real problem. When big tobacco targeted children as smokers we went after them. I see childhood obesity as being no different. I see more and more obese children everyday. Children were never that big when I was a kid. We’re not talking about being chubby. This is a health crisis. We wouldn’t let a child smoke or drink alcohol so why would anyone ignore obesity?

    • LNS

      The difference is that with big tobacco, we went after big tobacco… we didn’t go after the children.

  • Brenna

    The parents are to blame, not the young children. Shaming them, belittling them, causing them to have no self esteem, way to go. Great way to drive them into eating disorders that could kill them or even better, suicide because they couldn’t stand the “shame” any longer. The parents and the children need to be helped, not humiliated.

    • wordup

      I agree the parents are to blame. They should be made to see the consequences of what they are doing to their children by encouraging and unhealthy lifestyle. Don’t attack the little ones, they need positive support/education, not bullying.

  • Leslie

    I don’t see this as fat shaming, but as recognition of a problem. I just spent a week with my 9 yr old nephew from Georgia. He has two chins and gets red-faced and winded from walking, yet he was allowed to choose mac and cheese, Doritos and soda for dinner. Parents who don’t teach their offspring healthy diet and exercise habits are not doing their job.

  • simon666

    A reasonable worry is that a campaign like this one will have the unintended consequence of precipitating eating disorders. Young people, male and female, as young as eight years old are increasingly concerning themselves with their weight and publicly perceived image and often are developing anorexic and bulimic behaviors.

    It might be argued that shaming young people about obesity is only reinforcing another underlying problem of being concerned with the outward aesthetic appearance of oneself.

    I would suggest arguing for particular activities and diets rather than against being obese in itself. However, I do think this ad does a good job of establishing the stakes for young people.

  • pfhunt

    Really, if you want to solve the obesity problem in this country you would start with the food manufactures who put all the surgars, fat, harmones in our food and then put thousands of adverstasments on TV, billboards, magazines for those foods aimed at children and their parents! What am I thinking? We have to protect those companies, better to attack children and their parents! What a bunch of BS!

  • Joseph Bowers

    It’s ridiculous anyway. Food is a personal choice controlled by the parents. Stop wasting taxpayer money on government run programs and let the moronic cattle eat themselves to death. With the modernization of society and all the molly coddling by bleeding hearts many of those that darwinism would have culled naturally are now planted in front of an xbox being pumped full of ADHD drugs and swilling HFCS laden soda until they can’t walk.

    • Mary

      I completely agree.

      Except I assume the darwinism reference is supposed to be in relevance to ‘Survivial of the fittest’ which was actually coined by Herbert Spencer and never a statement made by Darwin.

      I think Darwin would guess that the cattle will eventually become their own isolated, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing species

  • Lilac

    I was “Tina” as a young girl. I was being severely neglected and eating mostly cookies, chips, candy and milk as they were all prepared foods and the only foods in the house. I spent most of my childhood alone without access to anything else to eat. School was torture because of how I looked.
    I changed and got healthy when I left for college and had options but I wish someone had helped me before then.

  • ANNA

    Sorry but let’s stop blaming the parents and the Kids. The root cause is the USA government. The Food today has more drugs than a pharmacy. The “Fake food” created by the USA and now used in the UK and Australia is the cause of the diabetes and obesity crisis. The lawsuits would be too many for the Governments of the USA, UK and AU to pay so we need a scapegoat…called McDonalds. 4 million people died in 12 months from Diabetes

    just google SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

  • AlphaBette

    I was an obese child and spent years and years depressed as a result of the shaming, bullying, and abuse I received, from both my peers and my family. I attempted suicide twice. Shame the parents. A 5-year old (in my case, 2-year old) has no understanding of what they are doing ‘wrong’. They only get the sense that they, themselves, are ‘wrong’.

    And, if obesity were a simple problem, it would not be a problem.

  • Raine

    I think they should focus more on combating the bullying and negative attitudes about weight that are creating the problems for these children, rather than continuing to reinforce the idea that these kids have something wrong with them and need to change. Yes, they should promote healthy eating and exercise, but not by highlighting how all fat people must be miserable and perpetuating the idea that anyone who is overweight and happy is lying to themselves or others.

    Most of the people I know who have been obese or severely overweight and have had success in losing weight or moving to a healthier lifestyle started by loving themselves, including their bodies, as they were, not by being shamed into it. I am sorry if some overweight people cannot walk or breathe, but I know several people who are over 200 pounds (a few over 300) that run, bicycle, dance, and even do events like triathlon, distance running, and roller derby. Then again, it is hard for many large people to get into exercise because they have been taught it is punishment for being fat and because many people will heckle a fat woman who is running, biking, or at the gym.

  • Mary Michaels

    Feeling insecure about oneself often causes people, be they children or adults, to comfort themselves with food. The causes of obesity are myriad and surely should be addressed, but I fear ads like this could make the problem worse.

    • ol cranky

      Thank you. ITA. The depression and yo-yo dieting cycle that comes from the shame and frustration of trying to reach a weight goal may well eventually lead kids that are overweight to kids/adults that are morbidly obese (or even kids that are morbidly obese to kids who are significantly more so).

  • lalala

    It’s definitely a true message, whether or not it’s a good idea. I was an overweight kid who also happened to be incredibly active, but my mom was overweight and my dad was overweight, and at dinner they constantly told me that I needed to be a member of the “clean plate club”…..they cooked insane amounts of pasta, being Italian, and I loved it. We had dessert every single night. I didn’t learn proper portion control, and some rude little brat came up to me in 2nd grade and asked me if I was pregnant in front of EVERYONE, which led to two hours of crying, more teasing for years, attempts at eating disorders from 12 on, which culminated in a brutal eating disorder in high school (hit 100 lbs at 5’5″ almost hospitalized etc.) Even to this day I’m having issues, unable to balance overeating with just not eating at all. Actually, this site is helping me immensely to focus on health, so THANKS Blisstree (!!!)

    Anyway, even if this campaign can hurt kids, I think it’s important for the parents who see it to realize how their eating habits rub off on their children. Maybe a campaign such as this one will start an eating disorder today (from a kid seeing it) but it may prevent many in the future. If parents see it, take notice, and change their habits…their kids won’t get teased and subsequently lose any iota of self esteem and eventually starve themselves. It’s complex, but as someone who has dealt with all of it, I think it’s a good thing. And I’m 20, so it’s not like I’m a 45 year old mom who doesn’t know what it’s like to be a kid any time recently.

  • Flanfang

    Education is needed. But this isn’t the way.
    When I was a fat little girl these ads would have just depressed me. Kids need lifting up in spirit and in mind. They need HOPE.
    I know it makes some people feel better to pick on the obese.” Lets all gang up on the fat one” is exactly what I experienced and it didn’t help.
    What did? Someone gave me hope. A kind gym teacher gave me a book about nutrition and exercise and then followed up with kind attention. It meant the world. I lost 70 pounds at 13 years old.

  • Hanna Brooks Olsen

    While I definitely agree that parents are to blame much of the time, I think when ads and public health messages are obscure (“childhood obesity is bad”), it is much less effective than when they are directly portraying how a child–YOUR child–is impacted by their obesity. These ads may be difficult for kids (or they could actually make the kids feel like someone cares/is listening, actually), but they’re definitely going to get the parents’ attention.

  • Melody Clark

    Do we shame children with trichotillomania or other compulsive illnesses? Do we publicly ostracize people with OCD? No, we don’t, and we shouldn’t. Compulsively doing anything is a neurological illness. Coupled with a genetic predisposition to gain weight, this results in obesity. Public “shaming” only worsens the condition. No one who advocates cruelty is really interested in helping ANYONE — they just want to control the world.

  • starson

    Looks like parents everywhere–not just in Georgia–think their kids’ diets are better than they are:
    http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/mothers-overestimate-dietary-quality/
    (great site, excellent videos)

  • D Moffett

    I feel for these beautiful children.
    It’s not their fault and in most cases it’s not the fault of their parents. We have all been lied to by the USDA, industrial food and the medical profession.
    We’ve been told to eat less fat and more “heart healthy grains”. That is what is killing us. The USDA food pyramid is wrong. It’s the sugar and carbs that are bad. We should eat more fat and meat. Cut out the sugars, wheat, and starches.
    Read a book by Dr. William Davis called “Wheat Belly”, and a book called “Why We Get Fat”, by Gary Taubes. Educate the parents and children. Don’t blame them for following government guidelines.
    Since I discovered the lie and changed my lifestyle I’ve lost 145 pounds.

  • Laura

    Well, there’s a healthy message for ya. If kids are picking on you, change yourself!

    We hear the anti-bullying message loud and clear these days, UNLESS the victim is fat. Then it’s her own fault. Unbelievable.

    • Jaye

      I agree with you. People pick on this kid, but of course it’s her fault because she’s fat. It’s not like other people can just stop bullying her. *sarcasm*

    • ol cranky

      yeah, because peer pressure is always something a kid should be succumb to and the bullies always have a legitimate reason to pick on you /sarcasm

  • Martin Levac

    Eating less and moving more is so easy, even a kid can do it!

    If only that were true.

    • Martin Levac

      The standard therapy for childhood obesity (eat less) is in obvious conflict with the natural requirement of a growing child (eat more). Maybe we got obesity wrong.

  • just1girl

    yeah, instead of shaming these kids, who already feel like crap, why don’t you do nutrition classes, more recess instead of cramming their heads with crap they don’t need to know, and aren’t paying attention to anyways. (I’m sorry, a fifth grader doesn’t need to know how to take care of a baby, they don’t need to know the square root of 20 either.) LESS HOMEWORK so they can actually go out and play instead of being stuck inside doing -more- school work, and oh, I dunno..feed them healthy, not fried, not synthetic stuff that’s actually appealing, Not the measly two pieces of lettuce with a helping of fried fat balls.

  • Mary

    Clearly everyone who responded to this is fat, angry and lazy. Being obsese is just as dangerous as being in starvation mode.

    You are saying that children should learn at a young age there is nothing wrong with being obese and the entire system should change so that these children do not have to learn or develop understanding of portion control, exercise, nutrition and self-control and everything else should conform to their lifestyles.

    Clearly the western world has become so accustomed to obesity that it no longer appears to be an unhealthy manifestation of poor diet and lack of exercise (yes, I understand that there are exceptions [thyroid problems, ect]), and something for people to get used to and accept.

    Ridiculous.
    Over-eating is not normal. What if children everywhere were compulsively oversleeping, and spending 15 hours a day sleeping? Would we say that’s how they are and everyone needs to accept it, and despite the health risks and lifelong repurcussions of developing these habits we should turn a blind eye to the obvious downfalls because it’s easier than realizing we are facing an epidemic derived from excess?

    • smashbrolink

      Many so-called “parents” these days allow their children to not eat healthy despite having access to the educational materials right in their own home.
      A simple google search on anything with internet could lead parents to many healthy meal and snack alternatives, but most simply do not do it.
      They’ll go with what THEY were used to eating as kids, or with what is culturally accepted within their family[greasy tacos and tons of fatty beef in -some- spanish households, for instance, or huge pots of pasta and desserts every single meal in some italian family's, as another. Cultural examples are endless], instead of taking the time to investigate on their own. The material is out there waiting for them, uncensored and unaffected by the USDA. It’s the parents fault for not actively looking for it.
      I am not dismissing fault on the part of food manufacturers[lord knows that there are plenty of mistakes made on their part over the years, though they HAVE gotten better], but in the end, a child’s diet IS mostly the responsibility of THEIR PARENTS, at least within the confines of their own home.
      It is the parent’s job to guide their children in living a healthy life by eating right.
      Not to the point of shaming them or punishing them when they do NOT eat right, because we all know that we can’t be there with them every single second of the day so mealtimes outside the home will inevitably have a few unhealthy choices, but firm and responsible control over the amount of “harmful foods” that kids consume in their own home should be a top priority for any parent worthy[or looking to BECOME worthy] of the title of parent.
      Anyone can become a mother or a father. It takes special qualities to become a true parent.
      And one of those qualities is teaching your children healthy eating habits.

      Me personally, I think that this video should be viewed less as a slam against children and more as a wake-up call to the parents of said children.
      It’s painful to look at this video and nearly impossible for most parents to draw anything other than negativity from it, but minds must be opened and eyes must be turned towards the issue instead of away from it.
      It’s a fact: Obesity is not something we should simply be accepting.
      Obesity is not something that should be glorified or accepted in society.
      Exempting medical cases where the obesity is caused by more than just poor dietary choices, it is something that responsible parents[actually, responsible people in general] should be actively working to counter.
      Anyone who would support a positive outlook on cases of non-medical-cause obesity, has no right to stand on any podium in any forum and declare themselves sensible, let alone sane.

  • smashbrolink

    Many so-called “parents” these days allow their children to not eat healthy despite having access to the educational materials right in their own home.
    A simple google search on anything with internet could lead parents to many healthy meal and snack alternatives, but most simply do not do it.
    They’ll go with what they were used to eating, or with what is culturally accepted within their family[greasy tacos and tons of fatty beef in -some- spanish households, for instance], instead of taking the time to investigate on their own. The material is out there waiting for them, uncensored and unaffected by the USDA. It’s the parents fault for not actively looking for it.
    I am not dismissing fault on the part of food manufacturers[lord knows that there are plenty of mistakes made on their part over the years, though they HAVE gotten better], but in the end, a child’s diet IS mostly the responsibility of THEIR PARENTS, at least within the confines of their own home.
    It is the parent’s job to guide their children in living a healthy life by eating right.
    Not to the point of shaming them or punishing them when they do NOT eat right, because we all know that we can’t be there with them every single second of the day so mealtimes outside the home will inevitably have a few unhealthy choices, but firm and responsible control over the amount of “harmful foods” that kids consume in their own home should be a top priority for any parent worthy[or looking to BECOME worthy] of the title of parent.
    Anyone can become a mother or a father. It takes special qualities to become a true parent.
    And one of those qualities is teaching your children healthy eating habits.

    Me personally, I think that this video should be viewed less as a slam against children and more as a wake-up call to the parents of said children.
    It’s painful to look at this video and nearly impossible for most parents to draw anything other than negativity from it, but minds must be opened and eyes must be turned.
    It’s a fact: Obesity is not something we should simply be accepting.
    Obesity is not something that should be glorified or accepted in society.
    Exempting medical cases where the obesity is caused by more than just poor dietary choices, it is something that responsible parents[actually, responsible people in general] should be actively working to counter.
    Anyone who would support a positive outlook on cases of non-medical-cause obesity, has no right to stand on any podium in any forum and claim they are sensible, let alone sane.

  • BBJ

    Is there something stopping them from making an ad that shows kids making smart food choices, cooking a healthy dinner with Dad, or joining the soccer team and learning that they feel better when they’re active? You know, something a kid or parent might see and say, ‘hey, we could…’

    The clip above? Well, a fat kid who’s not being treated like crap by the little twerps at his or her school (and many are not) won’t respond to that at all, and a kid who is getting treated badly is getting nothing except ‘if you weren’t so fat, they wouldn’t pick on you, fatass!’

    I find it really disturbing that the clip contains no suggestion that bullying is bad.

  • rrc

    The kids can’t control what a parent buys and serves for meals. Nor can they control what the school pushes off as food. (Pizza is NOT a vegatable)

    Effectiveness of commercial on helping childhood obesity? Epic Fail Why? Wrong target audience.

    They should be developing ads that support changing the food in schools and informing parents on what is good for them and their kids.

    However, the bottom line for those who don’t make a lot of money, the least expensive things to purchase are the things that are not that good for you.

    How about address that?

  • rrc

    The kids can’t control what a parent buys and serves for meals. Nor can they control what the school pushes off as food. (Pizza is NOT a vegatable)

    Effectiveness of commercial on helping childhood obesity? Epic Fail Why? Wrong target audience.

    They should be developing ads that support changing the food in schools and informing parents on what is good for them and their kids.

    However, the bottom line for those who don’t make a lot of money, the least expensive things to purchase are the things that are not that good for you.

    How about addressing that?