Thursday, January 5, 2012

No More Sugarcoating

The Georgia Children’s Health Alliance is running an ad campaign against childhood obesity called Strong4Life, which recently ignited a firestorm of controversy.

The print ads depict glum-looking overweight kids with captions like "He has his father's eyes, his laugh, and maybe even his diabetes," "Fat kids become fat adults," and "Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line."

And the videos in the ad campaign are equally stark and in-your-face, like this one:

Some folks have reacted with outrage, arguing that the ads will backfire because they "might actually make people feel worse" about being overweight. (This quote's from Marsha Davis, child obesity prevention researcher from the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health.)

As the L.A. Times pointed out, the Strong4Life Facebook page is filled with comments from horrified parents like this one:
"Horrible! As a 42 year old woman who struggled with anorexia as a teen and now a mother of a 6 year old girl who is taller and thicker than the average children her age and gets picked on by all ages including adults with inappropriate comments you have no idea obviously of the damage this will do with the ad. You will hurt more than you help. Self esteem is built with smiles and no pointing."
Others say that the ad campaign fails to offer any solutions -- other than to shame kids into losing weight.

But the Strong4Life campaign has responded with cold, hard statistics. Children are getting fatter -- and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of American kids today are overweight or obese. Georgia ranks second in the U.S. for childhood obesity, with over 1 million overweight kids.

Strong4Life's position is that the fight against childhood obesity needs to start with awareness. As Linda Matzigkeit, senior vice president of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “We felt like we needed a very arresting, abrupt campaign that said: ‘Hey, Georgia! Wake up. This is a problem."
The organization’s research found that 50 percent of people surveyed didn’t recognize childhood obesity as a problem. What’s more, 75 percent of parents with overweight kids didn’t acknowledge their child as having a weight issue. 
I agree that an awareness campaign isn't enough -- pointing out a problem does no good without offering concrete solutions. But as a first step, perhaps a cold splash of water in the face is exactly what's needed here. After all, the whole "self esteem is built with smiles" thing clearly isn't working.

Then again, without parents injecting their kids with mega-doses of self-esteem, we'd be bereft of awesome reality shows that feature pint-sized beauty queens from Georgia:

The video above is kind of scary-awesome. (Emphasis on "scary.") My favorite line: "A dolla makes me holla, honey-boo-boo!"

What say you? Are these ads unduly harsh and cruel? Or just what the doctor ordered?