A controversial anti-obesity ad campaign run by Strong4Life in Atlanta, Ga. has sparked outrage from parents and health officials across the state. The goal of the campaign, nicknamed Stop Sugarcoating It, Georgia, is to shock young adults and their parents into acknowledging that being overweight or obese is a health problem that needs to be addressed.
Modeled after anti-smoking and anti-drug campaigns, the ads are meant to shock. The black and white videos feature young teens and adults talking about the medical problems or teasing at school that they face due to their weight. They are straightforward and harsh, using charged words like fat, obese and chubby.
It has to be harsh. If it's not, nobody's going to listen, Linda Matzigkeit, vice president of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, the pediatric hospital running the campaign, told NPR.
Matzigkeit thinks the ad campaign is needed in Ga. because parents are in denial. Ga. has the second highest number of obese children in the country, second only to Miss. Nearly one million children are obese or overweight in the state. Since the late 1970s, obesity across the country has risen sharply for children and young adults from ages 2 to 19.
This is a medical crisis, and I say if you don't believe me, come visit our hospital and see the kids we are now taking care of - that more and more have Type 2 diabetes, have hypertension, need knee replacements - and it's breaking our heart to see these adult-type diseases in the children that we serve, she continued.
The ads are part of a five year, $25 million anti-obesity effort that includes health awareness programs in schools, training pediatricians to educate parents and teens and establishing health clinics to address specific obesity-related issues.
While the ads are dramatic and persuasive, many health officials and parents have criticized the campaign for using an inappropriate and negative strategy to get a much-needed message across.
Rodney Lyn of Georgia State University's Institute of Public Health told NPR that sending a negative message about weight loss can actually harm young teens and adults more than it will help them.
We know that stigmatization leads to lower self-esteem, potential depression. We know that kids will engage in physical activity less because they feel like they're going to be embarrassed. So there are all these other negative effects, he told NPR.
Parents have also expressed frustration and anger towards the anti-obesity campaign.
This is ridiculous, Jessica Snead wrote on the campaign's Facebook page. My child is chubby not fat and already has enough problems getting bullied at school because she is the Smart Girl. She doesn't need this to add fuel to the fire. Target the parents or the schools not the kids. My child eats healthy at home but is fed pizza for breakfast at school. She was fine until she started attending GA public school then she started getting chubby. She is not the only child I have witnessed this to happen to.
The campaign's negativity seems particularly troubling for parents who known their children already suffer from bullying at school.
I think I understand what you're trying to do with these ads. Childhood obesity is a steadily growing problem, Kelly Fuerst wrote on the Facebook page. But holding up pictures of children in this way is morally reprehensible. Believe me, kids like the children in these pictures, get told many times a day how disgusting they are. They are called names, ostracized, bullied, and made to feel like freaks. It's ads like these that could finish them off once and for all.
In fact, some parents are frustrated that the ads themselves focus on bullying as a reason for promoting healthier lifestyles rather than advocating the healthy lifestyle itself.
I'm all for being truthful and stark about the dangers of obesity and the health threats it causes, but shaming kids is not the answer, Hillary-Doggart-Greer wrote in response to the ads. The ads you have produced about the wellness risks are great, but kids should not be made to lose weight because 'other kids pick on them.' I don't think peer pressure and bullying is the best choice for your campaign if it wants to plant positive seeds and avoid causing bad mental health in addition to obesity.
Watch the Anti-Obesity Ad Videos: