Too Harsh or Just What the Dr. Ordered?

Controversy is raging over a new ad campaign, known as Stop Sugarcoating Childhood Obesity, launched by the Strong4Life campaign and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The advertisements, which include both print ads and TV spots, show actual overweight children and include taglines such as “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid” and “My fat may be funny to you, but it’s killing me.”

The concept behind the campaign is that parents need to face facts: Your child is too fat and it’s dangerous.

The ads are meant to draw attention to the childhood obesity epidemic, however, they’ve drawn mixed reactions from both parents and health experts, who have called their effectiveness into question. Some say the campaign is more likely to increase stigmatization against overweight children and make them feel ashamed of their bodies, rather than encourage healthy habits.

But the health organization produced these ads after they discovered that 75 percent of parents with obese children are not aware that their children were overweight, while 50 percent of parents don’t realize that childhood obesity is a problem to begin with. In a state where nearly 40 percent of children are overweight or obese — Georgia is in 2nd place for childhood obesity rates nationwide behind Mississippi — these statistics are a problem.

14-year-old Maya Walters, one of the children pictured in the ads, says …

“I think it’s very brave to talk about the elephant in the room. It’s very provocative and makes people uncomfortable, but it’s when people are uncomfortable that change comes.”

Maybe calling fat what it is isn’t cruel, it’s identifying a problem that needs to be solved. And if it makes a mom pause before tossing that bag of Oreos into the grocery cart or pulling into a fast food drive-thru instead of making dinner, that’s a good thing. If parents need a powerful glaring message to help them make good decisions for their children, then so be it.

The epidemic of childhood obesity is mostly about poor nutrition and lack of exercise — things that CAN be corrected if people, especially parents, work hard at it.  Solving it is complex, sure, but it can’t start until people recognize it as a serious problem. Sugarcoating the issue is not helpful.

So let us know what you think. Is this blaming the victim or a healthy dose of reality? You decide.
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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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