ACU Press & Leafwood Publishers' Blog

Shocking Anti-Childhood Obesity Ads: Hurtful or Helpful?

Below is a guest post from one of our authors, Nancy B. Kennedy, whose latest book, How We Did It, released in December. Be sure to check out her blog and the facebook page for the book as well.

At this time of year when many people make resolutions to lose weight, a children’s hospital in Georgia is taking a harsh approach in an attempt to move parents and children to action.

The hospital is running a series of black-and-white TV and print ads featuring shockingly overweight children. In one ad, an overweight girl looks squarely into the camera, arms crossed, while the tag line reads, “It’s hard to be a little girl… when you’re not.” In another ad, an overweight boy similarly faces the camera with the message, “Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line.

But I think the most searing image is one of an obese mother and her overweight son on a stark stage. The two enter separately, sit on chairs facing each other and wait in silence. After a few seconds, the boy says, “Mom, why am I fat?”

The ads are raising a firestorm of protest. They go too far, critics say. They cross the line between helpful and hurtful. But supporters say the ad creators are simply facing facts. Georgia has the second highest rate of obesity in the nation—40 percent of children in the state are overweight or obese. That’s almost 1 in 2 children.

Mississippi leads the nation in obesity. Nationwide, 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese. (Obese is a specific medical term that means a person carries 20 percent or more pounds over their ideal weight.) And childhood obesity brings on the same debilitating health conditions it does for adults—diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. These children’s lives will likely be cut short.

The ads are shocking, I agree. But, having just written How We Did It, a book of weight loss success stories, I believe approaches like this are necessary. Almost every person in the book who lost weight was shocked into action by what’s called a “triggering event.” A triggering event can be a photo, an unkind remark, a glimpse of yourself in a shop window, a health scare—an ad campaign—anything that is so shocking to you that you decide you must do something about your weight.

The children in these ads aren’t chubby. They aren’t plump or simply overweight. They’re obese. One 14-year-old girl weighs 250 pounds. Obviously, whatever “encouraging” messages health care officials have been sending aren’t working. Will these? I hope so. I know weight loss can be achieved. A photo started me on my way to success. For these families, it will take more than a 30-second TV ad, but it’s a start.

How about you? Do you think the ads go too far? Or are they a necessary warning call? Enter the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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