Childhood Obesity Campaign Still Bullying Fat Kids

You may have seen these ads last week from Atlanta’s Strong4Life Campaign, which attempt to let kids (and their parents) know that they are fat and shame/scare/bully them into just stopping being fat already.

posters from the Strong4Life campaign. They read: Chubby kids may not outlive their parents, fat kids become fat adults, big bones didn't make me this way big meals did, and he has his father's eyes, his laugh, and maybe even his diabetes.
Nothing inspires kids like scaring them with mean posters that say they’re going to die soon!

Now, childhood obesity, and fatness in general, is a hot-button issue, even within the feminist community. While we all want kids to be healthy, the media often oversimplify the “obesity epidemic” and conflate health and weight, encouraging us to view fat kids as near-death and skinny kids as the very picture of wellbeing. This obscures the real issues, which are more about physical activity and nutrition than they are about weight (believe it or not, the two are not inextricably linked). No matter how you feel about kids and fat though, this is a damaging and mean-spirited ad campaign that seeks to make everyone (kids, parents, me, you) feel bad. And how is that supposed to help anyone, exactly?

According to the creators of the campaign, “The purpose of the ads aren’t to bully children but to make parents/caregivers aware that childhood obesity is an issue.” Do they really think that these kids, and others who look like them, dont know that they’re fat? As a former chubby kid, let me tell you: THEY KNOW. And I’d bet their parents do too, though this ad would have you believing otherwise:

No, you are not watching Law & Order SVU.

Since the ads aired last week, they have garnered lots of negative attention for being bullying and ineffective, and many people have pushed back and asked Strong4Life to rethink their tactics. (For you science-loving skeptics out there, check out this review that found that obesity intervention campaigns are not effective in getting kids to lose weight.) Strong4Life is still going, well, strong, though, and appears to be continuing with the campaign.

I get that in our media-saturated environment organizations feel like they need “shock tactics” to stand out and get people’s (especially kids, who have the attention spans of chihuahuas) attention. What I don’t get though, is why Strong4Life thought that a cruel, pushy, and scary campaign like this one was going to do any good? If their website is to be believed, they’re actually advocating for fresh food, more play, less screen time, and a bunch of other sensible things. Why not have an ad campaign that promotes those ideas instead of one that shames and bums out everyone in its path? If I remember anything about being a kid, it’s that you’d rather do something fun than NOT do something that a black and white commercial told you would kill you and make everyone hate you (not in that order). And what’s with the ads that show kids talking about being picked on, like this one?

This is sadder than that Sarah McLachlan ASPCA ad that makes me cry and want to get a cat.

Isn’t it obvious that the real issue here is the kids who are being mean to Jaden?! Why single him out and make him feel worse? Apparently it’s because it’s supposed to help him lose weight, so that he can then befriend a bunch of jerks. No thanks.

It’s disappointing that, even after the criticism the ads have received over the past week, Strong4Life is still standing by them. They do seem to be responding to complaints though, so visit their Twitter and Facebook pages if you’d like to let them know that bullying kids isn’t helping anyone.

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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11 Comments Have Been Posted

Fat-shaming children is not cool

Okay, I think it's great that there are programs that are teaching parents how to feed their kids nutritious meals and encourage them to get some exercise, but the point these ads are missing is that some people, despite eating well, exercising, and being overall healthy, are fat. Kids are not exceptions to this rule, especially when you consider that kids are naturally a little plump, and often hit growth spurts which thin them out. And so what if they grow into obese adults? That's their business alone. These ads are not informative at all, and really are just fat-shaming. They single out obese children, who probably already go through hell because of the pressures placed on them by society, and magnify their fears and unhappiness. What a load of bull.

There is more than one issue here.

I know that no kid needs more negative attention in his or her life, but consider: kids don't control their lives and diets. The parents do. Parents are the target audience, and they need to face facts. Overfeeding (whether out of guilt, affection, laziness, their own poor habits, whatever) is damaging to children's health, and changing that is the first priority. A child's physical well-being should be dealt with as a separate and more immediate problem than society's craziness, to which there is no end.

The child's mental well-being is also crucial, but embracing extremely excessive weight and overeating by saying, "You're perfect just the way you are," is giving positive reinforcement to destructive behavior. Cultivating self-esteem for traits that are not worthy of respect will twist a kid's mind in the wrong direction. Focusing on being healthy and maintaining your body properly will teach a kid self-respect, just like daily teeth brushing, bed making, and doing homework. If a kid has self-respect, self-esteem will follow naturally.

Scare tactics don't work!! Do

Scare tactics don't work!! Do your research here people!! These ads are awful.

I really hate these ads. This

I really hate these ads. This IS a feminist issue because this organization is targeting people's body image and telling them they're not good enough - something women especially have always struggled with.

Another thing that really bothers me is that there is so much hype over childhood obesity but nobody EVER pays any attention to the many children in America and around the world who go hungry every day. Instead of shaming people for being fat or too poor to afford food we should empower people to be healthy AND happy.

Recommendation for Child Advocacy Toolkit

I would like to recommend the free NAAFA Child Advocacy ToolkitSM (CATK) and other written guidelines/resources to assist you looking at programs.

A Yale Rudd Center report reviewed existing research on weight stigma in children and adolescents, with attention to the nature and extent of weight bias toward obese youths and to the primary sources of stigma in their lives, including peers, educators, and parents. As a result of weight bias and discrimination, obese children suffer psychological, social, and health-related consequences.

Rebecca Puhl of the Rudd Center further brings to light the stigmatization of large children in the following article.

The NAAFA Child Advocacy Toolkit shows how Health At Every Size® takes the focus off weight and directs it to healthful eating and enjoyable movement. It addresses the bullying, building positive self-image and eliminating stigmatization of large children. The CATK lists resources available to parents, educators or caregivers for educational materials, curriculum and programming that is beneficial for all children. It can be found at:

Scare tactics don't work, and

Scare tactics don't work, and I agree that the conflation of being overweight with being unhealthy is misguided. Any child, regardless of size, can have a poor diet. Having an advert aimed at both children and parents that encourages healthy eating without body-shaming is perfectly possible, as demonstrated (I think anyway) by recent adverts over here in Britain as part of the Change4Life series :

There's a major difference

There's a major difference between being healthy and round and morbidly obese. Obesity is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed and we need to get at the true roots of the problem. This add campaign is obviously majorly flawed and not only ineffective but antagonistic.

I think ads like these help.

I think ads like these help. I mean, no its not nice, its not being friendly, and its not helping the fat kids. But these commercials are getting into peoples head. No it is not right to point out that someones fat. If you do though it will make the kids parents think that they need to do something about it. But if the parents dont change their kids bodies and probably their own, then that is their problem completley. If someone wants to be overweight and not able to do anything except sit down and tell people what they need to do, then i think they need to look at themselves. Im not hating on big people at all. Its your own life, so do with it what you want to do.

Original Song called "DONUTS DON'T GROW ON TREES"

My Original Song to help educate obese kids.
Maybe it can be used to help the cause..

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Sebring, Florida

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No matter how you feel about

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