“Being Fat Takes The Fun Out Of Being A Kid”: Public Service Announcement Or Stereotyping?

I was contacted by a journalist yesterday to comment on a series of television and print ads in Georgia featuring overweight children. These adds are part of an ongoing campaign by the non-profit organization Strong4Life and you can click here to view some. A number of kids are shown discussing their weight in stark terms – for example, one boy asks his mom “Why am I fat?” Other campaign slogans used by this group include “Warning: It’s Hard To Be A Little Girl If You’re Not”. Overall, the ad campaign focuses on the problems experienced by overweight and obese kids, which include risk for diabetes as well as being targets of bullying. 

The purpose of these ads is straightforward – the idea is to make people in Georgia aware of the childhood obesity epidemic (as the organization states that nearly 40% of kids in Georgia are considered to be overweight or obese). And a little bit of shock value certainly does get people’s attention. But the issue being debated is whether these ads achieve anything useful – and in fact if they actually do harm by promoting stereotypes of overweight kids.

Having watched the videos, I don’t see much information value in them. Childhood obesity is a public health problem with multiple causes. Yes, parents have the ultimate responsibility to raise their kids to be healthy. But given that a third of the adults in the US are obese – as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) –  don’t we have a broader issue that goes beyond finger pointing and rhetoric? Don’t we owe parents and kids more information and real advice to lead healthier lives? Shouldn’t we also think beyond parenting and take on the very real issue of the contributing factor of school lunches in many communities? And shouldn’t we also acknowledge the very real role that genetics plays in this equation? (By the way, I’m planning a blog post on that topic in the very near future).

It’s very important that parents – and all of us concerned with public health – understand the very real physical and social risks experienced by overweight and obese kids. But, c’mon, simple scare tactics and dramatizations might grab someone’s attention for just a few seconds, and worse, serve as a platform for continuing stereotypes. How about presenting the grim statistics and realities of the obesity epidemic – those are scary enough on their own – along with a hopeful message that there are ways to combat this? After all, isn’t the broader goal to motivate parents to make changes in their lifestyle and hook them up with real resources to help them do this?

Image of the word diabetes courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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  1. by Nancy

    On January 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    I think that the people who make these videos aren’t thinking things through very well. Children fat and skinny watch these videos. As a kid I saw people make fun of other because they saw something on tv that reminded them of the person.
    Bullies will be here regardless and so will obese children. It used to be a taboo to be called gay, now that “being gay” is accepted we have to find something else to attach a stigma to, The White House has chosen “fat” children to ridicule. I don’t find these commercials helpful.. don’t they realize that kids see their flaws. They know how to be depressed without a commercial shoving it down their throats and then off to school so someone can reenact these commercials.

  2. by Kelly

    On January 4, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    I have been obese my whole life. I have also always been active and well liked by my peers. My mom is obese, my grandfather, my great-father, and on down the line. Obviously a genetic component is present, and millons of doctors have recognized it. The premise of this whole campaign is a little disturbing. Being the mom of two girls with autism, what is next? Should I tell my children to “act more normal” so they won’t be bullied? Should we tell children of color to “act more white” so American society will better accept you? Why don’t we focus on stopping the bullies and teaching people to respect others, regardless of how they look? Troubling.

  3. by valeri

    On January 4, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    i have 3 kids. one is VERY thin, its her build, age and metabolism she has had people make comments to her about how thin she is. “skinny minney”, “stick legs”, “boney”. its hurtful. no one wants to be singled out and made fun of. i think we should probably teach kids that people come in all shapes and sizes, and that you don’t comment on that.

  4. by Susan Treptow

    On January 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    I have a child who is not overweight at all but who may have diabetes.

  5. by Becky

    On January 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I live in Atlanta, where I see these ads everyday, and I do no believe that a two-second exposure to an image will make a real difference in the obesity epidemic.
    Change will only come from teaching parents to make healthy choices to which their children will positively respond. As a parent, runner, and fitness instructor, I took this belief to heart and began writing a blog to help parents make better choices for themselves and their families. I invite you to visit for recipes, ideas and tips on making health simple and enjoyable. http://healthyhappysimple.blogspot.com/

  6. by Heidi

    On January 10, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I do not think that there ads have any value whatsoever. They seem to simply be pointing a finger of shame at children, they are humiliating and mean and do not offer any hope for the children in them. I think that other ad campaigns that have focused on being more active (like the ones that tell kids to get out and play an hour a day) are more useful. I think that kids will watch these Georgia ads and then got to school and pick on fat kids MORE. I can just imagine them teasing a child and telling them that THEY should do one of the new fat kid ads. If you really want to influence children’s behavior, outlaw ads for sugary foods that play during kid’s shows, instead have more ads about eating healthy and being active. And parents and schools need to ALLOW children to have more time for exercise, what I see as a big part of the problem is a school that cuts out PE and recess, or has inadequate funds and facilities for these; and then a child who goes home after school to be “babysat” by the TV until mom and dad get home from work. Then of course it is time for homework, dinner, and bed. When are children in these circumstances supposed to engage in active play? If the parents have enough money maybe they will enroll the child in a sport, but that is usually for one hour a week, not nearly enough time. And many parents are too afraid to even let their child walk to school or go out to a playground alone. These problems are NOT going to be solved by parading overweight children around like circus freaks and shaming them.