Sometimes public service announcements miss the mark. Like really, really miss the mark. In 2009 I described an anti-teen pregnancy PSA as gut-wrenchingly horrible and the feeling has not waned with time. It suggests that teenagers who have gotten (someone) pregnant are dirty, cheap pricks, nobodies, and rejects. We’ve also highlighted PSAs against statutory rape featuring children with giant breasts and an anti-domestic violence campaign in which you “hit the bitch.”
The campaign I’d like to discuss in this post is along these lines. Brought to my attention by Debbie at Body Impolitic, it is the Georgia Children’s Health Alliance’s anti-childhood obesity campaign. And it shames fat children and encourages viewers to retain negative stereotypes about them. First, I wonder how it must feel to be chosen to be the posterchild for this campaign?
Second, some of the short videos available on the website confirm nasty stereotypes about fat people. Like, all they do is eat:
Ironically, some of the videos acknowledge that fat children are subject to discrimination (at least from other kids), but that doesn’t appear to have stopped them from feeding that prejudice with their message.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Confused — April 6, 2011
Sorry how does it "shames fat children and encourages viewers to retain negative stereotypes about them". can you clarify?
Leigh — April 6, 2011
Hmmm... I remember our teacher read us "Jelly Belly," in 4th grade. There were only 2 kids out of 30 who were larger than average. I wonder how they felt?
As for the images I see them as aimed at parents -- trying to shock/shame them into better diet/exercise habits.
Leigh — April 6, 2011
Also, just for clarification - I think I see where you are going Lisa. Black & white full frontal (as opposed to 3/4) photography has a long been used to objectify the other. Suren Lalvani has great book that speaks to this: "Photography, Vision, and the production of Modern Bodies."
Ceiling Cat — April 6, 2011
There's nothing offensive about these posters, they show simple facts.
Jen — April 6, 2011
On the contrary, these posters are EXTREMELY offensive because they encourage fat kids to feel bad about themselves and they encourage the prejudice against fat people. Lots of fat kids get bullied already - these posters only encourage that.
The posters encourage the idea that all fat people are fat because they eat too much, which isn't true: many fat people eat perfectly healthy diets, and of course many thin people eat very unhealthy diets.
A campaign that was really about health would focus on healthy eating, exercise, and positive self-image, not on weight. This campaign has nothing to do with health, it is about spreading rank prejudice against people who don't fit a beauty ideal.
T — April 6, 2011
And the fat-is-healthy apologetics begin...
el.j — April 6, 2011
I'm shocked that people find these unproblematic. Firstly, the posters do not show "simple facts" as each image is accompanied by the "warning" (mimicking cigarette packaging.) This is not simply a factual presentation of statistics. The images of minor children, who cannot consent to nor understand the implication of these images (presumably their parents consented for them), are being used as a "warning," which is in itself an act of objectification. The child is explicitly a "fat" child, and their image is intended to scare the rest of us - how is that not entirely degrading? How is it not problematic to present an image of a child and essentially say "if you don't stop eating you might look like THIS," as though the child is not a human being but simply some signifier of fatness. It's dehumanizing. (In some cigarette campaigns they used images of cancer patients - those adult patients however consented for their images to be used and understood exactly how the images would be used and to what end, and those images weren't captioned with something like "people with no willpower smoke and get cancer and die and they deserve it" which would be more the equivalent of these ads.) What about these posters asks us to approach these images of children seeing them as people apart from their weight? They are reduced simply to exemplars of fatness, and we are encouraged to only see them as embodying that characteristic. They do not become children, but fat children. Clearly, "fat" and "chubby" are used in these posters as pejorative terms, and the ads make the specific choice not to use other, less hurtful words (or even medicalized words such as "obese") Do we really believe it's possible to separate "fat" used to label the child from "fat" as shouted at her on the playground? What is possibly not degrading in labelling a child as "fat?" THe ads are clearly designed to be shocking, with the "warning" statement signalling this intention to us. But these are images of real children - they are not horror movie monsters, yet the ads essentially create that feeling of the monstruous in our response to them.
Secondly, tags like "Big bones didn't make me this way. Big meals did" explicitly connect the child's weight with a lack of self-control, with excess appetite and greed. I'm also disturbed by how deterministic the ads are "probably his diabetes," "fat kids become fat adults" - as though children's bodies don't change during puberty. Could not that "fat" boy become an offensive lineman, for example? I find it very disturbing to label the image "chubby kids may not outlive their parents" - what a thing to put on the image of a 7 year old.
Did the children know their images would be use to scare other people? Are these stock images that were selected for their "fatness" or did the children explictly agree to take part in an obesity campaign? Do they understand that they are being used to represent "fat"? Why are they not allowed to smile - are we encouraged to believe that all fat people are inherently miserable and unhappy because of their fat, and it would be impossible for any fat person to enjoy life, be joyful or be in any way fulfilled in life.
Darkwing Duck — April 6, 2011
These are complicated, to my mind moreso than the images in the teen pregnancy adverts. The teen pregnancy ones have a perjorative term as the largest visual object spread across the individual in the poster. These images put the "warning" front and center. So, we could read the fat child as a "warning." The 'warning' could be read as "Don't do XYZ or you will end up like this kid." I am drawing on my family history here a bit -- the larger members of my family were often pointed out to us as kids while our relatives said "Don't eat that, you'll end up like Aunt So-and-So."
Unsurprisingly, I HAVE ended up like Aunt So-And-So, if Aunt So-And-So also ran half-marathons.
But, I digress.
The "big meals" one, to me, feels targeted at the parents -- you're giving your kid big meals, you're making him this way. I'm trying to think of alternative images that would also engage parents...kids and parents exercising together, perhaps, or shown enjoying healthy meals together (instead of KFC, for instance). Parents feeding their kids rat poison and text that equates it with giving them fast food might be going a bit far, though...
Easy to criticize these. Hard to figure out how to make them better.
Frowner — April 6, 2011
Why is this difficult? The more you shame fat kids (and I was a fat kid, then an eating-disordered teen and now am a smallish fat adult) the less likely fat kids are to care about their health, play sports, go outside or develop the peer relationships that teach you to be a social being and contribute to both mental and physical health. When you shame fat kids, you make it much more likely that they'll intensify harmful behaviors, whether it's eating junk, cutting, having sex that they don't want to have or other risky behavior.
My history, let me tell you it: Photos reveal that I was a very slightly chubby kid, nothing problematic. I was teased and abused at school for my weight, my poverty and other factors. By the time I was eleven, I was unwilling to spend time outside (where I might be victimized), unwilling to try at sports (I'm actually pretty athletic, who knew?) because when I tried I was mocked and did a lot of really messed up eating because I was so miserable and sweets were a distraction.
I started out chubby and got fat because of the shaming. I strongly suspect that most fat kids would be ten times healthier (whether thinner or not) if they were just treated like goddamned regular people instead of medicalized and bullied.
MPS — April 6, 2011
Well, I think we have to decide what we think is socially or personally good behavior and what is not, and if our feelings are not so strong to create laws, then shame and ridicule are the tools at our disposal.
Presumably you have no issue with the fact that we use shame and ridicule to try to keep racists and sexists in conformity with our social values.
Granted, there is some sense in which we think people can more easily "choose" to overcome the racism and sexism they inherit from their upbringing, than the obesity they inherit. But this is a blurry sense and I'm not really sure in what sense it's correct. Regardless all it really implies is that we be more careful in how we shame people for different reasons. I'm not yet decided on how I feel about this particular advert.
Sarah — April 6, 2011
The video in particular reinforces stereotypes about "fat" people. It very much reminds me of a phrase I've heard echoed in popular culture that most people view as harmless, but is in fact NOT in any way harmless: "Love you like a fat kid loves cake." There is so MUCH wrong with this phrase, but when people say it to you, they expect you to take it as a compliment and not be offended on behalf of all the fat kids in the world. It would be akin to saying something like "I love you like a black child loves watermelon" or invoking some equally harmful and offensive stereotype.
Ricky — April 6, 2011
"First, I wonder how it must feel to be chosen to be the posterchild for this campaign?"
Probably laughing all the way to the bank...or Dunkin Donuts.
Fuzzy — April 6, 2011
At some point, one is fat because one consumes more calories than one burns. There are often a lot of reasons for that, among them lack of willpower, lack of nutritional knowledge, habit, lack of desire to change---do not even get me started on how many people simply refuse to consider changing their eating habits, secondary gain i.e. disability or emotional issues, and the list goes on. However, put a person in a situation where their calories are truly limited as opposed to self-reported, increase their activity and lo and behold they lose weight! Ta-dah!
The persons who need shamed are the parents of these poor obese kids---however, I'd bet they are among my 500 lbs patients, dying because their diabetes has fried their kidneys and their weight makes them ineligible for surgery
Urmomlulz — April 6, 2011
Don't worry...we'll all get a lot thinner when our economy crashes and the price for food skyrockets. ^_^
Chorda — April 6, 2011
The PSA with the little boy talking about eating donuts and disliking the way his mother cooks vegetables bothered me a lot. It reinforces the false dichotomy of good food vs. bad food, which ultimately leads to poorer food choices. The poison is in the dose, as they say in environmental science. Any food can be an issue and any food can also be part of a healthy diet.
Some people are more sensitive to the bitter compounds in vegetables. While not everyone who would be labeled as "overweight" has this sensitivity, it is very common among them. The false dichotomy that places vegetables as a "virtuous" food and other choices as "sinful" food actually ends up making it harder for people with this sensitivity to make the best choices for their own nutrition, as they are pushed by society to eat things that are physiologically repulsive to them instead of being well-educated on how to get the nutrients they need in palatable forms.
But PSAs about nutrients, about how a healthy diet can be achieved in a number of ways, and how a person can be healthy at any size aren't easy. They don't feed into society's stereotypes.
Electra — April 6, 2011
Someone made a good point regarding what to do instead; I propose pictures of active, happy, accepted fat kids doing something like playing soccer, frisbee, riding bikes etc. Show them modeling healthy behaviors while being fat, without shame. Show these kids as something more than just fat; that they don't always have to be defined by fat and food. That's an ad campaign I could get behind. I think you could even keep the same captions if the visuals were reinforcing the positive habits, rather than criminalizing being fat. I'm very struck by how these photos are just a serial number away from a mugshot. Even the choice of a black and white photo makes them seem less real and part of the present.
Tracey — April 6, 2011
I'd also like to point out that focusing on diet and exercise as the sole causes for being heavy is actually medically unsound and can be very harmful.
From the time I hit puberty, I was what most people would call "chunky." I was a healthy kid, able to walk three miles from school with no problem. My mother and aunt didn't buy candy, served fruit for dessert and forbade snacking between meals. But--I had a solid build, and though I started dieting from the age of fourteen on, I remained solid with fat, swollen legs.
When I was sixteen, I started to drag my left leg. My aunt decided that if it was too heavy for me to move it properly, I needed to go to Weight Watchers. I stayed with Weight Watchers for six months. I quit the day the leader accused me of cheating on my diet and then lying about it. I hadn't cheated or lied...but she was certain that I had. after all, what else could be causing the weight gain.
From ages sixteen to thirty-two, I went to doctor after doctor, asking all of them why my legs kept swelling up and why walking felt like treading on knives. I got to the point where the pressure of pantyhose caused unbearable pain, to the point where my legs were turning purplish-black and the skin was splitting open. Every doctor said the same thing: "You're eating too much. Go on a diet." One of them explicitly told me to "knock off the cakes and pies" and mocked me when I said I wasn't eating either. I left his office in tears.
My neurologist--for I have absence seizures--initially thought that my anticonvulsant medication might be to blame, for Depakote slows the metabolism down so that only 25% of the calories that a normal person would burn are used up. When he realized that this condition predated my taking Depakote, he sent me to a specialist.
The specialist took one look at me and knew what was wrong. I had some blood work done, but that only confirmed what he knew.
I have a genetic condition called lymphedema tarda. The lymphatic fluid, which normally would carry toxins and excess proteins to the kidneys, does not circulate well in my legs; it just sits there. That was what was causing the swelling, the discoloration and the skin splitting. Many women get this condition after they have masectomies, as the lymph nodes under the arm get damaged; I was born with a defective chromosome. It had nothing to do with diet or exercise; it was, and is, a birth defect.
The delay in diagnosis--which, sadly, is common for lymphedemics--also resulted in delayed treatment. The specialist was shocked that I was still ambulatory; most people who hadn't been diagnosed yet were either wheelchair-bound or bedridden.
I look at these kids in these ads, and I wonder--how many of them suffer from undiagnosed conditions that doctors don't even think of because our society is conditioned to believe that "being overweight" means "eating too much"? Could any of the children in the posters have lymphedema, hyperthyroidism, essential fatty acid deficiency, blood sugar imbalance? If so, the weight is a symptom. Dealing ineffectively with a symptom does not eliminate anything else that is malfunctioning.
I've talked to other lymphedemics. They've said that they grew to hate going to doctors, even to hate leaving their homes because the doctors ignored everything they said (why listen when you have a preconceived notion of what's wrong?), because teachers used them as examples of what NOT to look like (even if they were relatively agile), because children stared and pointed, because teenagers looked at them and laughed, because other women gazed at them in virulent disgust. Many said that this had been going on since they were teenagers or earlier. I cannot think that this did them--or me--any good, or that it helped motivate any of us to diet or exercise. Most lymphedemics I've spoken to said that the only thing they wanted to do was give up and hide from the world.
Fat shaming was a lousy message when I was thirty-two. It's a lousy message now. IT DOESN'T WORK. But it feeds into our society's hatred of fat people and allows people to feel pointlessly superior without effort. And that's what's really important, isn't it? Not anyone's health--emotional or physical.
AlgebraAB — April 6, 2011
I do believe that there is an "epidemic" of obesity in the U.S. (and a few other nations). "Epidemic" might not be the right word, but when I look at statistics that show climbing obesity rates; increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses that strongly correlate with obesity; declining rates of participation in physical activity and so on, I definitely see a trend. I really have a hard time buying that these are all statistical anomalies or something of that nature.
In my personal life I have noticed a significant change between how I spent my free time as a youngster (and I was overweight, for what it's worth) and how I see the youth around me today spending their time. There seems to be a very marked decline in the amount of time spent doing physical activity (especially unstructured physical activity). Granted, that's just a personal anecdote but I don't think I'm alone here.
I don't understand the retort that argues that you can't determine a person's health solely by looking at their weight. Of course that is true with regard to particular individuals. That doesn't mean there aren't wider social problems with obesity and that society can't (or shouldn't) address those problems with regards to society as a whole. It seems to me that argument is aimed at divorcing any relationship between obesity and ill-health in the public's mind. While I understand why the link between obesity and ill-health isn't ironclad or always the case, I think pretending like there is no link whatsoever is even more disingenuous.
As for the whole aspect of "shaming" - I do think these are a bit harsh but I don't agree with the critical sentiment of the OP in general. It seems to me there is currently a cultural backlash against giving children any kind of prescriptive advice. The argument seems to be that rebuking children in any regard or advocating that they change any aspect of their lifestyle is in itself shaming or will result in negative results for that child's development, especially their self-esteem. I don't buy it. I think children do need guidance and they need someone to guide them towards making positive choices in their youth and adolescence and often that requires that adults take on a stern and even a condemnatory or angry tone. It can be painful (in an emotional sense) to children in the moment but I think teaching children to realize that they aren't always right and that niceness doesn't necessarily equate with someone having their best interests in mind, is critically important.
This is a bit of a tangent but there is a reason why instructors in the armed forces attack the self-esteem of an individual directly instead of taking on a cooperative tone, let alone a friendly one. It's because that kind of brutal training often has the effect of actually boosting a recruit's self-confidence and sense of agency in the end run. It's very counter-intuitive but it's true. Of course, I'm not suggesting boot-camp style training for children. What I'm getting at is that just because an ad of this nature isn't nice or focused exclusively on a child's feelings doesn't mean it's "bad" ... this kind of "tough love" may end up having a positive effect in the long run.
Zoe Danger Awesome — April 6, 2011
I'n not going to make myself watch the videos, I don't think I could take it right now. Things like this are really aggravating. There is no doubt in my mind that America is an unhealthy nation. We should have PSAs encouraging healthy food choices and fitness. Instead we have PSAs saying you should eat right and exercise to be thin. And we are all putting the blame on fat children. Despite the fact that there are fat children that are healthy than their thin friends. Health at Every Size (which is a book everyone should read) is something the nation should start to practice.
I hated my body for a very long time. I hated my body so much I did not want to be in it. I kept telling myself I needed to be thinner. My whole life I have told I am not good enough. Because I hated my body I didn't want to move in it. I didn't take care of my body because I hated it so much.
Now I am learning to love my body everyday. I am present in my body. I love to walk and bike and dance. I might lose weight, I might not. But that doesn't matter, what matters is that I am taking care of myself now
Honestly between fat people dieing sooner and left handing people dieing sooner I think I may kick the bucket at 25. /sarcasm/
Carmela — April 6, 2011
"when I look at statistics that show climbing obesity rates; increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses that strongly correlate with obesity; declining rates of participation in physical activity and so on, I definitely see a trend"
What are these statistics you are looking at? The latest statistics show that obesity is pretty much plateauing and not increasing, cardiovascular death rates have dropped astronomically for decades and life expectancy goes up every year. Anyone remember the 1950s or the 1960s. Hardly anyone participated in physical activity back then except a few exceptional cases. Only body builders went to the gym and women didn't play any sports.
rhea d — April 6, 2011
I realized long time ago that a pear shaped figure is considered fat, because looking back I was never an obese child, I was just made to feel that way. Big boobs would have been okay because that's more acceptable than booty. I have my suspicions that expecting people to conform to that sort of aesthetic is discriminatory and racist because I read some incredibly offensive comment on posts on forums with photos of women like Kim Kardashian, someone actually called her body a 'ghetto body' and how must it feel dragging that thing behind you all the time? On the other hand I used to get my butt grabbed on the street all the time, which isn't very flattering--there was just hate for my body everywhere I went. I'm finally in a neutral place now and took years of feminism and logic and observing people's attitudes to finally heal some of it and teach myself that its not my fault, to love healthy food. I exercise in the privacy of my home because when you run things fly and people gawk, at least in this country, and I really can't handle it.
Telling kids they're fat only makes them hide away and increases their self-hate. It makes them unhealthy, mentally and physically. This is not the way to do it. If they're trying to target parents, then show irresponsible parents, target cafeterias that serve unhealthy food, stop setting up examples of kids with a barely concealed undertones of 'ugh'. This if fat hatred plain and clear.
rhea d — April 6, 2011
Sorry for the typos.
Linkspam (4/7/11) « The Rambling Feminist — April 7, 2011
[...] Anti-Childhood Obesity PSA Shames Fat Children || Sociological Images [...]
SW — April 7, 2011
You might want to add a trigger warning to the statutory rape PSA post, because the comments are full of child rapists.
MedHours.com — April 7, 2011
Blame pointed at women's surgeon...
Glenys Anne Hillman Source: AdelaideNow THE DEPUTY say coroner is investigating two surgical procedures by a physician which allegedly resulted in the deaths of two women.The Coroner's Court heard this day that Emily Ruth Leonard and Glenys Anne Hill....
Marilyn Wann — April 7, 2011
In the U.S., people are taller, weigh more, are healthier, and are living longer than ever. As a culture, we are choosing to freak out about fatness.
Correlation does not prove causation. All research findings on so-called "obesity" are correlational data with rather weak correlations that — if one considers powerful confounding variables (fitness, dieting history, stress, discrimination, lack of access to medical care) diminish even further. (Steve Blair's work, as one example, finds that fat people who are moderately fit are healthier and live longer than thin people who are sedentary.) Another comparison: People who smoke tobacco have 300 times the risk of dying from lung cancer; being fat barely doubles mortality risk, and not even that for some populations (African American women). Being fat is also associated with lower incidence of some diseases (osteoporosis) and Flegal's latest mortality data from the CDC found 86,000 fewer deaths among people in the so-called "overweight" category, compared to people in the so-called "healthy" weight category.
The advertising campaign mentioned here will do little good and has potential to do much harm. The data on weight-loss efforts is clear: all but a few people who lose weight will regain — and weight-cycling correlates with increased morbidity/mortality risk. Meanwhile, a Health At Every Size(SM) approach has been tested and shown to inspire lasting behavior improvements, lasting improvements in health numbers and lasting improvements in self-esteem (no weight loss, just better health and happiness!).
The freakout about fat children is in part motivated by the total failure to produce lasting weight loss among fat adults. So public health officials are applying the same failed approach to children, hoping that the added panic (It's the children!) will produce a different outcome.
In every 100,000 children, 11.8 have Type 2 diabetes and 2,700 have diagnosed eating disorders. Children are 229 *TIMES* more likely to have eating disorders. This ad campaign may well inspire a few more.
I have been a fat activist since the mid-90s. I became an activist because I was denied health insurance based on my weight alone. I have never heard anyone who handwrings about so-called "obesity" say one word about the health impact of leaving fat people like me out in the cold to die. I am 44 years old. In my entire adult life, I have only had access to reliable coverage since February of this year (thanks to a pre-existing condition PPO offered by my state, an advance offering that's part of Obama's healthcare reform). I refuse to believe that people care about my health or wellbeing, or the health and wellbeing of fat people, when they can't even be bothered to notice that we're denied access to basic medical screenings and treatments, like, say annual Pap smears or antibiotics when we happen to need them.
There are three main communities challenging weight-based prejudice/discrimination, critiquing cultural constructions around weight, and promoting a weight-neutral approach to health.
I invite people of all sizes and good conscience to join fat pride community. My book, FAT!SO?, is a fun intro text. The organization NAAFA is our community's oldest civil rights organization: www.naafaonline.com.
I invite people to learn more about the new, interdisciplinary field of fat studies. The Fat Studies Readers is an excellent mix of 50-plus essays on various topics, from various fields (NYU, 2009). You can also join the email list where this community gathers: www.groups.yahoo.com/group/fatstudies.
I invite people to learn more about Health At Every Size(SM). Linda Bacon's book of the same name is substantiated and informative. There is also a professional organization for Health At Every Size professionals called the Association for Size Diversity and Health: www.sizediversityandhealth.org.
For the people here who disbelieve the possibility of fat people being healthy. Happily, I don't need your permission! The thin-supremacist arguments here are no surprise; they serve as a reminder why I'm a fat activist.
Emily — April 7, 2011
Wow that is really terrible!
Dr. Robert Runte — April 7, 2011
Well, I doubt anyone is reading comments this far down the column, but a couple of things: This is a classic case of "blaming the victim". If there is a problem with childhood obesity, then it must be that these kids have no self-control and are behaving badly. This is the natural response of a capitalist society in which the hegemonic ideology is 'individualism". As sociologists, we of course take a step back from the focus on individuals to look for structural factors. And what becomes immediately apparent is that the obesity rate of children (and adults for that matter) is directly correlated to changes in food production, specifically the use of corn syrup as a sweetener, and so on. I have to laugh when I hear the principal of our school telling kids to avoid sugary drinks (without naming brand names of course -- so I'm not sure kids actually know to what he is referring, as I overheard one kid say, 'I don't drink anything but coke, so I'm good!') once a month or so for about 15 seconds during announcements or assembly, while the soda industry spends how many billions on ads? Yeah, but it's the kids' fault for not listening to the principal, because once he has officially informed them that this constitutes bad behavior, they are responsible -- because in capitalist America, it is unthinkable to ask corporations to cut back on behaviors that are damaging the health of the nation. Where are the warnings on cans of coke (like on cigarettes) that this drink contains 15 teaspoon of sugar and that drinking it will rot your teeth and undermine your health"? But it is unthinkable (literally, you didn't think of it until just now when I said it and you thought it was a stupid think to say) to hold corporations responsible for their actions. Nope. it's all on the individual consumer.
But that is not sociological thinking.
The other thing I'd like to throw out there are the recent studies that suggest that about 30% of obesity cases are the result of a virus -- it's hard to document that correlation is a causation but when you see the same virus in 30% of obese people and not in the general population, you have to wonder. I became aware of the research when my daughter got sick with flu symptoms, and then suddenly chunked out. It was dramatic change with no change in eating patterns. When we talked to the doctor she mentioned the virus research, and when I asked why I hadn't heard of that before, she told me that it was because doctors didn't like to talk about it because they were concerned that the other 70% would use that as an excuse. But if the public knew that at least some obesity was viral, they might ease up a bit on the blame game.
Darkwing Duck — April 7, 2011
I read this far....fat is a quality-of-life and a social issue for me.
Can you post a reference to a study that you consider to be of high quality about the obesity virus?
Josh — April 7, 2011
Let's all hold hands and feel good about our blubber rolls!
Dr. Robert Runte — April 7, 2011
Accusing someone of being a troll does not constitutes a valid rebuttal. You could at least have googled "obesity virus" before responding. To pick the first website that comes up for me on Google, see Fox news http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,482788,00.html (First and probably last time I've quoted Fox News, but it was first up.) I am not a medical doctor so cannot speak to the validity of the reports, but I trust my doctor who seemed to give the studies she had seen at least tentative credence.
It's like ulcers...turns out that they are caused by bacterial infection, but the first doctor to suggest that was initially laughed at, and then actively suppressed, because the rest of the profession does not care to admit that it has been dead wrong for previous 50 years. So it comes as no surprise that the suggestion that obesity is linked to a virus is viewed as lludicrous right up until....they prove it.
Casey — April 7, 2011
I thought we were under the assumption that being fat was a choice, much like murdering people or being a bigot, and thus justifiably shamed. I mean, there is healthy, big boned people, but this is about people who do nothing but sit around all day and eat shitty food. As per their choice. It's reprehensible in these ads, because these children often don't have a choice in their diet. The parents here are the culprits and making the kids look bad doesn't demonstrate that.
Dr. Robert Runte — April 7, 2011
Again, interesting variation on 'blaming the victim" theme. Recognizing that the children themselves may not be to blame, shift it on to parents and families -- but it is still focusing on the individual level. If one family is feeding their kids only Big Macs and Coke, okay, maybe there is a parenting problem. If 40% of the population are eating too many Big Macs and drinking Coke, looking for individuals to blame (kids or parents) is missing the point -- statistical trends reflect structural changes. Perhaps the real causes lie in the fact that meal preparation has been commodified -- I don't know about where you live, but the safeway where I live no longer labels it's isles by foodstuffs, but instead labels them by meal: the breakfast, lunch, and dinner. What that reflects is that meals are no longer prepared from ingredients (i.e., actual food) but from pre-packed meals (where companies can profit from the value added processing of everything), which likely contain too much salt, fat and sugar. Okay, so let's lay a bit of the blame at the feet of food preparation industry. But even here, the question is why are so few Americans actually cooking any more? Most of my students think cooking is opening a can of something to heat up, or more likely, a package to stick in the microwave. The answer probably has something to do with the way the long hours culture has taken over many of our jobs (remember the 40 hour workweek?) or that shrinking wages have forced both parents into the workforce, or etc.
So, lets take a culture that spends billions on advertizing crappy prepackaged or fast food, and unhealthy drinks, that expects workers to be at their desks rather than home feeding the kids, that over programs childhood with school and extracurricular activities, and then blame parents or kids for eating too much prepacked junk. Well, duh! So the blog entry here is pointing out that shaming people who are victims of these structures is probably not healthy, and I would suggest actively distracting from the real or more fundamental problems behind the trend we are observing.
Rachel — April 7, 2011
There are a lot of comments here, so maybe somebody else has brought this up, but isn't there a pretty strong correlation between childhood obesity and low household income? Is shaming an effective mechanism for change in a situation where time and cash-strapped parents living in downtown food deserts may have trouble providing healthy meals for their kids seven days a week?
Morgan — April 7, 2011
Well don't let your kids get so grossly healthfully obese then. Fat is not healthy or beautiful. I'm not saying be a rail because that's not healthy either, but eating like crap makes you look and feel like crap. Garbage in, garbage out.
b — April 7, 2011
Sometimes the comments here are full of insightful discussion and debate.
Sometimes they just make me hate people.
Marilyn Wann — April 7, 2011
Inveighing against an "obesigenic" environment is just blame-shifting. I challenge the urge to allocate blame for the fact of weight diversity in human populations. Since people of all sizes live in the same general environment, blaming an "obesigenic" environment sounds, to me, like saying the people who are fat are the people who were too slow or stupid to dodge the fattening bullet. If "obese" is another way to label people undesirable and that label also tends to attach to poor people, people of color, lesbians, people with disabilities, etc., then I think the urge to point fingers of blame at fat people needs to be examined. And questioned.
For people here who think they know how a fat person eats or lives, here's one of my favorite lines:
Fat people are not necessarily lazy or stupid; people who believe in stereotypes are.
Treefinger — April 7, 2011
Just to add... there are only two real objections to fatness:
1. People not finding it aesthetically pleasing. The reaction to this is simple: go fuck yourselves (literally if you want, masturbation can be a great way of alleviating the belief that other humans exist for your pleasure), no one cares if you can't get a boner.
2. Concerns about health. Let's just assume for a moment that the worst is true about "obesity" (which we'll define as having obese bmi for now): every single suspected or evidenced claim that connects obesity to various diseases is correct. I have questioned the idea that phsyical health is the be-all and end-all before, much to some people's incredulity, and I'll do it again. Health is something we should desire, sure, having a body that works for us helps us achieve certain things we would like to do (though I should note here that by "a body that works for us" is an individual thing and to say otherwise is ableist). But physical health isn't the only thing that humans value and you have to respect the choice to pursue other things that may compromise that instead. Besides, if it's a choice between physical health and mental health (which it absolutely is if cruelty is seen as acceptable as a measure to keep people physically healthy) then I know I would choose to have a mind capable of contentment and die twenty years early or get heart disease (pretty much a given for me given my genetics, even staying very thin as I am now, anyway) than live a long life of hating and punishing myself.
As a final point, this was brought up earlier, but needs to be emphasized: most people, when they talk about "fat" people derisively, are NOT talking about medical definitions or BMI. They are talking about a form of appearance that they find offensive to their eyes. You can have fat rolls and be medically underweight (like moi), you can be (even dangerously, rather than healthily) obese and have what looks like a desirable body. Please understand that most of the time fat activists are fighting against people degrading others on the basis of their looks, without knowing the facts about that individual's health. Personally I think it's fine to keep in mind, as a doctor or individual, that a high BMI and other factors can be correlated with disease, and get checked up frequently. But when the facts are mixed with myths and then get used to create a culture of shaming that leads to the singling out of people for abuse without even knowing their stats, just because they appear tubby? That ruins lives more than high cholesterol ever could.
Tom — April 7, 2011
Is a troll simply someone that doesn't agree with the standard ultra liberal sociological viewpoint? Can a troll also be someone who also believes so strongly in being accepting, etc., that they don't think critically about what is being said? Or mix up the definitions of beautiful and unhealthy?
It's sad these kids are publicly shamed and in-turn encourage other obese children to feel bad. Destroying a kid's confidence is no way to help him to lose weight. A different method might have been better, kids should not be publicly attacked, but guided to make better decisions.
None of us are going to be exactly at our ideal weight, but is being grossly overweight (obese) or underweight unhealthy, undoubtedly. There is no question about it. Obese children have a higher rate of risk for lots of health complications, just like underweight kids do. There is such a thing as a healthy weight to think otherwise is ridiculous.
You can think everyone is beautiful (ultra skinny, "average," or obese), but you have to come to terms with the fact that neither ultra skinny or obese people have weights that are ideal from a health standpoint.
Marilyn Wann — April 7, 2011
I suggest basic education on the concept of setpoint range. Here's a nutrition textbook that has a description online...
This important study uses identical twins raised apart to identify the influence of nature and nurture:
Donsie — April 8, 2011
In the case of childhood obesity, "Among all risk factors that are known to modulate obesity development and its persistence into adulthood, diet composition and food patterns are among the main environmental determinants" (Rodríguez and Moreno 2006 in Rodriguez, Sjöberg, Lissner and Moreno 2011, 329).
Yet, since this seems to be what the health at any size folk are advocating for anyway, let's totally ignore what the little boy looks like for a moment. Let's instead focus on what he says; he digs doughnuts, hides or at least is allowed to keep chips under his bed for a snack and abhors vegetables. Those don't sound like healthy choices for anyone, especially a child who should be learning good eating habits to sustain him for the rest of his life.
So, he purports to eat at least somewhat badly. Even if he's full of vim and vigor, though, someone needs to intervene and get him to lay off the fried food and eat some vegetables (maybe his parents could spend time with him wherein they learn to prepare vegetables in a way everyone enjoys). Now, assuming we can agree that the diet he reports is correct coupled with the fact that he is clearly fat makes it a safe assumption that in his case his body is unhealthy because he lifestyle is unhealthy.
I don't see what all the fuss is about for the PSA having made the point although I concede that it was at least not careful enough about refuting unhelpful stereotypes. It seems like the resulting backlash should be focused on poor diet and lifestyle among children learned from unhealthy (and in many cases, since genes and lifestyle are usually the perfect storm for obesity) overweight adults rather than the PSAs that point this out. Many people are fat because they eat more than they think they do and before you have a hissy-fit about it look any any of the research in the last, let's say, five years on the under-reporting of calorie consumption among overweight people who were sure they were eating well (and in several cases it was not so much what they were eating but simply how much).
Of course, one of the most consistently demonstrable risk factors for obesity and related health problems is socioeconomics (see Singh, Kogan, Van Dyck, and Siahpush 2008) so perhaps Georgia should look into that as well, eh? Spend more on their school slop, for one thing, so it's not a processed gloop nightmare.
Marilyn Wann — April 8, 2011
Health At Every Size(sm) expert Glenn A. Gaesser, PhD, director of exercise and wellness at Arizona State and director of their Healthy Lifestyles Research Center says:
"The chances of a fat kid getting slim are about the same that if a kid eats like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, he'll grow to be 7 feet tall and play in the NBA."
The brilliant fat studies scholar Pattie Thomas, PhD, offers a fundamenatal challenge in her writing at Psychology Today's website. (In my words: If people really believe that exercise and proper nutrition will result in weight loss, then why talk about weight at all? Why not just focus on the behaviors and trust in a health-enhancing result?)
Re: nature/nurture twins data in children...
Faith MS, Pietrobelli A, Nunez C, Heo M, Heymsfield SB and Allison DB (1999) Evidence for independent genetic influences on fat mass and body mass index in a pediatric twin sample. Pediatrics 104:61-67.
Correlation cannot prove causation.
We may notice a highly significant correlation between cooling weather in November and turkey mortality rates. We cannot assume this high correlation proves that the onset of winter kills turkeys. We would be ignoring the powerful confounding variable of Thanksgiving. Similarly, trying to improve health with weight-loss campaigns may be akin to changing the weather or knitting warm sweaters for turkeys. Kinda not the point. I would argue that the variables we can change are our behaviors, not our BMIs. That continuing to invest in a goal of weight loss is counterproductive for public health and prejudice-promoting.
There are any number of powerful confounding variables that could explain a correlation between higher weights and increased risk of illness/death: fitness level (Steve Blair, MD), a history of dieting, poverty, the stress of weight-based discrimination, weight-based barriers to medical care, poor quality of medical care for fatter people.
Here's some data indicating that weight stigma and weight-based discrimination may affect health. This possibility seems especially important to consider, given the profoundly weight-stigmatizing nature of ad campaigns like the one highlighted here.
The Stigma of Obesity: Does Perceived Weight Discrimination Affect Identity and Physical Health?
The Body Politic: the relationship between stigma and obesity-associated disease. BMC Public Health. 2008; 8: 128.
Marilyn Wann — April 8, 2011
This month's Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine includes results from an anti-"obesity" program targeting children.
From the journal's press release.
The "High Five for Kids" intervention reduced television viewing, but did not significantly reduce body mass index in a group of 475 children ages two to six years who were overweight. The study was a primary care-based obesity intervention to help children and their parents reduce television viewing time, and intake of fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages. Researchers found greater intervention effects among girls and among those living in lower-income households. The article was published Online First April 4 and will appear in the August print issue of the journal.
If you're registered for Medscape, more details here:
Bill Angel — April 8, 2011
I agree that producing media campaigns that stigmatize obese children will not only exacerbate their social problems, but could also lower their self esteem, which will affect their physical well being.
"According to the World Health Organization, self-esteem, self-image and tobacco use are directly linked. Adolescents who smoke tend to have low self-esteem, and low expectations for future achievement. Often they see smoking as a way to cope with the feelings of stress, anxiety and depression that stem from a lack of self-confidence."
So stigmatizing young people for being overweight could increase the likelihood that they will take up cigarette smoking. And smoking and obesity is a deadly combination.
Lucy — April 9, 2011
I'm not sure if this has been mentioned by anyone else, but can we just talk about how Bobby's video was 31 seconds long in total and he talks for 26 of those seconds - specifically about his relationship with food. We find out from what he says that he likes 1. hot doughnuts - especially when they're advertised, 2. hides food under his bed and 3. hates vegetables and how they're prepared by his mother.
On the other hand Tina's video is 20 seconds long and she only talks for 16 seconds. In that time, from what she says we find out that she is teased about her size and it hurts her feelings.
Also: the fact they're both white?
On top of the fat shaming this is just sick.
Lynne Murray — April 9, 2011
As I pointed out at more length in a Body Impolitic blog post, these posters are an invitation to bully fat kids.
Brenda — April 10, 2011
I am sorry, but... the same lifestyle habits, (such as inactivity and poor eating habits) that lead to obesity DO lead to health issues in later life. You will never convince me, or any other rational thinking person that this is not so.
And, I also think that fat people should not be 'mollycoddled' about their weight. And, no, that does not mean that I think they should be publicly humiliated either. They do, however, need it delivered to them straight from the hip.
And, as a former fatty, I can vouch... societal pressure had a GREAT DEAL to do with the fact that I was able to get off my a$$, educate myself, lose 150 pounds and KEEP it off. And, yes, I was a fat kid. And, I did get teased. A lot. My parents bugged me about it. My siblings. Classmates, and even adult friends of my parents. I survived. I am here... a high functioning, productive member of society. I'm not on any meds for any reason and I feel wonderful and ALIVE. Those experiences taught me a lot and have contributed to making me who I am.
I don't see any issues with these ads at all.
Pani — April 10, 2011
As a sociologist who has researched weight stigma, it amazes me that anyone could view these images as anything but emotionally barbaric. We have had weight harping for decades, if it worked people would be thinner by now. In the second place, lets assume for the more conventional thinkers among us (a good sociologist thinks outside the box, but the mediocre minded are everywhere) that weight loss for fat kids is desirable. Most experts would agree slower is better. Many don't think kids should lose weight, but avoid gaining as they grow. Does stigma promote sensible diet and gradual change? Of course not? Extreme propaganda is meant to prompt extreme action, like risky weight loss products; pills and surgery. This is marketing, pure and simple. That this is not painfully obvious makes me embarrassed for the critical thinking capacity of our country!!!
p.s. I would bet that many who defend these ads are trolls or others with agendas.
General Healthy — April 11, 2011
Good health and health habits resolve many issues...obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes...etc.
'Fat" is simply the marker of a calorie imbalance...a "result" of too many calories in versus calories burned. Should we single out fat people as the major issue? Or is health the issue?
You can be thin and unfit, thin and mal-nourished, and be a fit, heavy exerciser that consumes too much, but consumes an abundance of healthy food and be healthy than the first two that I mentioned. You can become fat eating whole grains, nuts and seeds, and plenty of plants and olive oil.
Ultimately, we've lost "good health" as a national priority. Food subsidies support meat, dairy, and processed oil and wheat production. We don't subsidize fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes. Being healthy is NOT what anyone aspires to be. Healthy is NOT cooler than hanging out and indulging ones' self. An active, fit, exerciser consuming a nutritious/balanced diet solves man many problems. Fat should not be demonized.
We're a selfish, self-indulgent society...promoted 24/7 by EVERYTHING in our culture, on television, in print, and in how we celebrate every day we live. Junk is our reward. Leisure is the ultimate goal.
Welcome to the Roman Empire! Fat should not be demonized!
Bannef — April 11, 2011
Hopefully someone mentioned this already, but if so, it's worth saying twice - I really hate that statistic mentioned at the end of the second video saying "Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years." Well sure it has - because the BMI has changed since 1980. Overnight tons of people instantaneously went from "overweight" to "obese." Here's a link: http://www.slate.com/id/2223095/pagenum/all/#p2 So this "fact," while technically true, makes it seem like some sudden epidemic that has suddenly came up, when that's not necessarily the case at all.
Should people focus on their health, specifically preventative care such as eating well and exercising? Absolutely! But three problems with this ad (beyond the one above):
1) I have yet to see someone shamed into becoming healthier/losing weight healthily. I'm guessing it's caused more than a couple eating disorders (which causes SCORES of health issues, but it's fine as long as the children are pretty, am I right?), but most people I know? Act healthier when they're, you know, NOT ASHAMED of themselves and their bodies.
2) It's equating obesity with unhealthiness, which is very unfair (PARTICULARLY if you're going by BMI, but just in general really). There are heavy people who live very healthy lifestyles (seen it with my own eyes folks), and there are skinny people who eat badly and don't exercise and this is UNHEALTHY whether they're pretty or not. (Also there are plenty of healthy skinny people - please none of that "skinny bitch eat a sandwich" b.s. - seriously, can no one get away un-judged?)
3) It's not really addressing any of the real problems I've seen that cause unhealthiness (although getting picked on can do it, but I don't think that's what that ad was aiming at). It's all "this child looooooves donuts!" not "his family has difficulty accessing healthy alternatives" or "he grew up in a community informed by commercials and television that doesn't understand what a healthy portion is, (and by community I essentially mean the United States of America).
Haylie Galloway — April 21, 2011
I don't think that it is right to call out little children on thier obesity. If your going to do it don't do it to the little kids. They are going to grow up with other kids picking on them because they were on the obese children billboard. I mean come on. what age are these kids? like 8 maybe 11. I don't know. All i know is that it is very disterbing and humilliating whether they know they are obese or not they are little children? It's just not right!
Asquared — April 27, 2011
The thing that bothers me here is not the negative portrayal of obesity. Being fat is not good for you. Period. I'm completely behind body positivity, and I do not think children should be bullied for being obese. But I also don't think obesity should be encouraged or portrayed in a positive light, because there isn't a positive side to being unhealthy. There is a huge difference between being a plus-sized person and being flat-out obese. That said, these children are not flat-out obese. Although they certainly have the potential to get there.
Anyway, my main issue with these ads is that they blame the kids for their weight problems. Where the hell is the mention of the parents in this? Eight-year-olds are not generally well-equipped to care for themselves, particularly in the food department. It's the people who are feeding them and caring for them that need to get this message. It infuriates me when I see parents walking with their already overweight five-year-old. This is not okay.
Mom of 2 Healthy Boys — May 2, 2011
I think this ad campaign doesn't miss the mark--it hits it dead on. If you're reading into this that the message is children are to blame for their obesity, you aren't paying attention. LAZY PARENTS ARE THE REASON FOR THIS PROBLEM. Did you not watch the first video listed? The boy even talks about the chips he hides to eat later. Chips that his dad buys.
Buy the kid some vegetables for Christ's sake!!
alyshia — May 5, 2011
well THOSE will get people's attention. *big sigh*
In Canada, (Ontario), right now we have tv ads that send the message "30 minutes of physical activity a day is not enough for children; help your children be more active" and rather than focus on the negative sides (fat kids eat too much / fat kids get picked on / fat kids hide food under their beds) at least some of our PSAs are providing HELPFUL information (targeting parents) to "combat" the "obesity problem".
Childhood Obesity: Real Problem or Bullying? — May 27, 2011
[...] Wade wrote an excellent opinion piece about the campaign in her blog post, Anti-Childhood Obesity PSA Shames Fat Children. She offers some other shocking examples of when public service announcements went very, very [...]
Lily Johnson — December 4, 2011
I completely agree. These ads are everywhere, and the marketers make no efforts to put them in places where children will not be as likely to see them; they're on billboards! These ads aren't making parents more responsible, but what they are lowering overweight kids' self-esteems. Kids are most susceptible to eating disorders, and ads like this are pretty likely to create them. Most children do not know about nutrition and the way it works; in fact, neither do many adults. This is a recipe for disaster. I can speak firsthand. As a young child, I was very overweight, and in time I became anorexic. At my lowest point, I was about 5'5" and I weighed 98 pounds, maybe even less. If they had these ads when I was the age of those children, I would have been pushed even further over the edge. Here is what they don't tell you: nothing caused by obesity cannot be reversed with healthy eating and exercise, even type II diabetes. However, the heart damage, osteoporosis, esophagus rupturing (bulimia), etc. caused by eating disorders cannot. Don't get me wrong, obesity is terrible but it is much worse for a child to become anorexic or bulimic than obese. These ads should be removed with a public apology, and the group should instead emphasize the importance of nutrition. Let's give the true facts about those ultra high calorie salads at McDonalds that so many people believe are healthy instead of creating a mega guilt trip that only harms the children. Education is the key to change, not name-calling.
Bill — January 3, 2012
I agree with this campaign. These PSAs inform parents that unless they stop enabling or supporting their childs' overweight condition, the children will continue to grow up with these habits and may become obese. Turn off the computer games, serve up a healthy alternative for dinner, and go for a walk with your child. This is your responsibility.
CLPP Reproductive Justice Conference: “Whose Food Justice? OUR Food Justice” Workshop | The Opinioness of the World — April 18, 2012
[...] million anti-childhood obesity campaign. In 2011, they displayed a horrible poster demonizing and shaming fat children, encouraging “viewers to retain negative stereotypes about them.” Horrifying. She also talked about the disgusting campaign by PETA who in 2011 launched the [...]
Jsaccardi1 — November 30, 2012
I love it.
When Self Worth Becomes the Biggest Loser | Adios Barbie — May 20, 2013
[...] has two digits; or if a doctor focuses only on your weight instead of your symptoms; or if you’re being used in a public service announcement as the worst-case scenario, you are being fat [...]
When Self Worth Becomes The Biggest Loser | The Body Pacifist — May 20, 2013
[...] two digits; or if a doctor focuses only on your weight instead of your symptoms; or if you’re being used in a public service announcement as the worst-case scenario, you are being fat [...]
Weight loss and fat acceptance - Page 2 — July 29, 2013
[...] I became inactive and then the problem actually began. Now I see a lot of kids going through this. Fat-shaming PSAs are also bizarre, they villainize fat children when they should be promoting healthy eating and making parents more responsible for their [...]
More armchair quarterbacking | Kinkementary BBW/BHM Dating-BBW Dating, BBW Personals, Plus Size Dating & Big Beautiful Women - Large Friends Kinkementary BBW Dating is the online bbw dating / plus size dating site with bbw dating personals for the BBW — May 2, 2014
[…] bloggers had been aware of the campaign for a long time. I remember that someone linked to this this April 2011 article on Sociological Images right after it was posted. However the fatophere campaign didn’t start until January […]
Cheryl Arsenault — July 31, 2020
Good morning, I was just on your website and filled out your "contact us" form. The "contact us" page on your site sends you messages like this via email which is the reason you're reading my message right now right? That's the most important accomplishment with any type of advertising, making people actually READ your ad and that's exactly what I just accomplished with you! If you have an ad message you would like to blast out to thousands of websites via their contact forms in the U.S. or anywhere in the world let me know, I can even focus on your required niches and my costs are very low. Reply here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Fat – not your fault? – Cultures of Biomedicine — February 25, 2021
[…] Image 2: https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/04/06/anti-childhood-obesity-psa-shames-fat-children/ […]