A chubby, young girl stands with her arms crossed facing the camera. "WARNING: It's hard to be a little girl if you're not," reads the stark copy below her photograph. This striking message is just one of a series of anti-obesity advertisements dubbed "Stop Sugarcoating," released by the Strong4Life campaign and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
ABC News reported that the health organization produced these ads after surveying parents in two Georgia towns. They discovered that 75 percent of parents with obese children were not aware that their children were overweight, while 50 percent of parents didn’t realize that childhood obesity was a problem to begin with. And in a state where nearly 40 percent of children are overweight or obese -- Georgia is in 2nd place for childhood obesity rates nationwide, only behind Mississippi -- these statistics are problematic.
The advertisements, which include both print ads and TV spots, show actual overweight Georgia children and include taglines such as "Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid" and "My fat may be funny to you, but it’s killing me." (Scroll down to see the ads in full.)
Linda Matzigkeit, a senior vice president at Children's Healthcare, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the campaign’s harsh tone was a necessity:
We felt like we needed a very arresting, abrupt campaign that said: "Hey, Georgia! Wake up. This is a problem."
The organization also made a point to specifically target parents. One TV spot shows a child looking miserable and asking his mother "Mom, why am I fat?" His equally overweight mother sighs and looks ashamed.
The ads are meant to draw attention to the childhood obesity epidemic. However, they’ve drawn mixed reactions from both parents and health experts, who have called their effectiveness into question. Many say that the campaign will more likely increase stigmatization against overweight children and make them feel ashamed of their bodies, rather than encouraging healthy habits.
As Dr. Miriam Labbok, director for the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told ABC News:
Blaming the victim rarely helps. These children know they are fat and that they are ostracized already.
And while similarly straightforward campaigns have worked to reduce smoking and meth use, childhood obesity prevention researcher Marsha Davis told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that similar tactics have rarely proven effective when it comes to weight. "We need to fight obesity, not obese people," she said.