“Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line,” reads one billboard. “WARNING: It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not,” reads another. These slogans appear in a new anti-obesity campaign launched by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The controversial ad campaign is an effort to combat soaring childhood obesity rates in Georgia, where approximately 40 percent of children are overweight or obese (neighbor Mississippi has highest childhood obesity rate in the nation.) But are the eye-catching ads what is needed to approach this troubling problem or are they another was to stigmatize overweight children?
The campaign, “Stop Sugarcoating,” aims to increase parental awareness of childhood obesity and improve children’s health. Proponents of the ads say that with these obesity figures, drastic steps are needed. They also say that prevention begins with parents.
Critics of the billboards suggest that the ad campaign is most successful at shaming youth who are overweight and reinforcing societal prejudice against children who do not have an “ideal” body type.
Commente Lynn Grefe, of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), “Every day we hear about the terrible rise in bullying within our schools, yet this ad campaign could actually promote and give permission to such behaviors among kids. Sadly, these ads will be successful in shaming children with weight problems and their parents, but will do nothing to promote and educate about wellness and emotional well-being. Shame on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta … not shame on the local kids.”
By legitimizing this sort of public bullying of overweight children, many critics say the campaign is actually dangerous to kids. According to a just-released report by U.K. eating disorder charity, Beat, as many as 65% of people with eating disorders say bullying contributed to their condition. The survey also found that 49% were less than 10 years old when the bullying started and many stated that the effects had stayed with them into their 40s and 50s. Sadly, only 22% received help to overcome their bullying.
According to Strong4Life, the developers of the campaign, obesity is defined as excess body fatness and is generally assessed by BMI (Body Mass Index). Children who are overweight or obese are now suffering from diseases once seen only in adults such as heart disease, hypertension, liver and kidney disease and type 2 diabetes.
Childhood obesity in the United States has been increasing at alarming rates. The story is no different in the Philadelphia area. In 2002, among children between the ages of 2 and 17 living in Southeastern Pennsylvania, 36 percent were at risk for obesity and 23 percent were obese.
One local resource is the Healthy Weight Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This program strives to improve the health and quality of life of children with excess weight by delivering excellent clinical care, engaging families in making healthy lifestyle changes, supporting education and building partnerships. For more information, click here.