“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?