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What if U.S. Childhood Obesity Ads Were Viewed on African TV

Tim Boyer's picture
Starvation in Africa

Childhood obesity ads are drawing attention from health professionals and the public with a smorgasbord of mixed reactions with as much range as the spread on a cheap all-you-can-stomach buffet table. One can’t help, however, but wonder if these ads on childhood obesity in the U.S. are really any different than those childhood starvation ads about children in Africa we used to see on TV. Which begs the question: What if U.S. Childhood Obesity ads were viewed on African T.V.—how would Americans react then…and, would it help?

Remember back in the day when your parents used to say to you, “Eat your vegetables—there are starving children in China who would be glad to have your vegetables.” Or, perhaps a little closer to today where TV commercials about impoverished, starving children with distended bellies in Africa would try to pull at your heart strings as well as your purse strings?

Coercion through guilt, shame, information as well as misinformation, and rewards are not only a reflection of parenting, but that of a paternalistic attitude taken by anyone who sees that someone else is in need of change. Case in point—the state of Georgia that ranks number two in childhood obesity.

Health officials in Georgia have released an ad campaign that features images of sad, obese children with captions such as, “It’s Hard to be a Little Girl - When You’re Not,” “Fat Prevention Begins at Home… and the Buffet Line, ” and “My Fat May be Funny to You, But it’s Killing me.”

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Georgia’s Health officials defend their decision to release captioned ads of unhappy appearing, obese children saying that public awareness about childhood obesity is unmet in their state and that education is needed. Opponents of the ads claim that the ads are not attacking obesity, but rather, are attacking obese people. Furthermore, that the ads will hurt children suffering from childhood obesity even more by damaging their self-esteem.

Self-esteem—the race-equivalent trump card used whenever someone has an unpopular idea to deal with a problem involving children, be it competition in sports, excellence in academics or in this case, the weighty problem of childhood obesity. How can anyone argue against a defense that makes you look like someone who doesn’t care about children, when you actually do…a lot. Which is what I believe that the state of Georgia is about with their ad campaign.

Do their ads grab your attention? Do you feel outrage…or do you feel compassion? Do you feel motivated to do something aside from saying that you believe Georgia is wrong and should be stopped? Would you be willing to put a stop to obesity as you would toward stopping hunger?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States where in 2010, no state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20 percent, and 36 states had a prevalence of 25 percent or more with 12 of these states having a prevalence of 30 percent or greater. Imagine if the numbers reflected hunger rather than obesity. Would we then be so quick and concerned about playing the self-esteem card? In medical emergencies—and obesity is a medical emergency today—is it not better to triage the condition… to treat the body before worrying about the mind?

Did we worry about the children of Africa’s self-esteem when we drew attention to their epidemic? If not…then why should we worry about ours? What if U.S. childhood obesity ads were viewed on African TV today?

Image source of starving children in Africa: Flickr. Creative Commons - used with permission.



Looks like parents everywhere--not just in Georgia--think their kids' diets are better than they are: nutritionfacts.org/videos/mothers-overestimate-dietary-quality/ (great site, excellent videos)
Thanks! I'll check it out.