The Washington Post

‘Stop Childhood Obesity’: Does the campaign help or harm?

An advertisement from the "Stop Childhood Obesity" campaign. (AP)

The goal of the “Stop Childhood Obesity” campaign is to end the obesity epidemic affecting 2.7 million Georgia children, according to its Facebook page. The campaign uses four child actors in its video ads and billboards to tell the real stories of obese children, who were asked how they felt about their weight in a focus group.

“We knew that there would be some discomfort when these ads would initially go up,” Ron Frieson, chairman of the Georgia Children’s Health Alliance, said on the “Today” show. “Keep in mind that this is a three-part campaign: This is part one. The first part is intended to raise the level of awareness. We’ve got to give voice to these kids — in their words — how they feel about being overweight.”

But critics say the ads will hurt the self-esteem of kids who are already suffering because of their weight. “Stigma is not an effective motivator,” Yale University psychologist Rebecca Puhl told CBS. “Whether children or adults, if they are teased or stigmatized, they’re much more likely to engage in unhealthy eating and avoidance of physical activity.” The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance said, “Billboards depicting fat kids are extraordinarily harmful to the very kids they are supposedly trying to help.”

Maya Walters, who plays Tamika in the campaign, discussed her feelings about the ads on the “Today” show. The 14-year-old told Meredith Vieira she was initially hesitant about starring in the ads, but that it’s been a positive experience. “This ad actually helped me, gave me way more self-confidence than I had before,” she said. Walters said that she’s been bullied about her weight, but not because of the ads.

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The “Stop Childhood Obesity” videos certainly seem harsh when compared to the video of First Lady Michelle Obama dancing with students to Beyonce’s “Move Your Body” as apart of her “Let’s Move!” campaign.

The controversial ads seem to take a different approach from from some recent advice Family Almanac’s Marguerite Kelly gave to a grandmother concerned that her grandchild was becoming overweight:

“The parents shouldn’t tell their daughter that she is overweight or tell her to go on a diet or even mention her weight. Instead, they should keep only healthful foods in the house, which will encourage her to make the same healthful choices that they make, for children imitate the people they love best, especially in the first 12 years.”

[Check out The Washington Post’s 2008 special section on childhood obesity, “Young Lives At Risk.”]

Watch some of the ads from the campaign, and weigh in on the controversy in the comments:


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