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Georgia’s shocking anti-obesity ad campaign

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These images, via ABC News, come from a recent ad campaign in Georgia, “Stop Sugarcoating,” aimed at fighting childhood obesity. They’re stirring a national controversy over whether they’ll get parents to recognize what obesity looks like, or only cause more stigma for overweight kids.

Georgia has the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the nation. At the same time, “a majority of parents of obese and overweight children underestimate their child’s weight,” a 2009 study showed.

So last year, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta started running an aggressive ad to raise awareness of what childhood obesity actually looks like, and what it means for kids. More from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Using tools such as television commercials and billboards late this year, the campaign has offered stark black-and-white images of overweight children sharing bold and often uncomfortable messages. In one, a child named Bobby sadly asks his obese mother, “Mom, why am I fat?” His mother simply sighs heavily and the commercial fades out.
Some public health experts, however, say the approach could be counterproductive when it comes to childhood obesity. The commercials and billboards do not give families the tools they need to attack the problem, some critics say. Others say the images will simply further stigmatize obesity and make it even less likely for parents and children to acknowledge that their weight is unhealthy and should be addressed.

Here’s one of their television spots, which takes a similar approach to the print ad above:

<iframe width=”454” height=”261” src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/ysIzX_iDUKs” frameborder=”0” allowfullscreen></iframe>

There’s not much academic research on what kind of advertising works in terms of combating childhood obesity; most studies tend to focus on the impact of advertising unhealthy food to children. The risk here is increasing stigma against overweight children. For decades now, researchers have found that overweight kids are less liked by their peers. These ads could probably cut either way: Making both kids and their peers more conscious of what being overweight looks like.

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