The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recently targeted McDonald’s restaurants with an unsettling video advertisement. The video is set in a morgue and focused on a dead male lying on a table, still clutching a half-eaten cheeseburger. Two people stand nearby overlooking the body: a male doctor and the deceased’s widow. PCRM representative and dietician Susan Levin reportsthat the ad is meant to “take aim at McDonald’s high-fat menu.”The closing slogan states : “High cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks- tonight, make it vegetarian.” Although efforts to decrease cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart attacks are positive initiatives, there are concerns with the content of this specific advertisement and its portrayals of weight.
The ad’s depictions of the two survivors as average weight individuals and the deceased as an overweight individual sends a biased message to viewers. This is consistent with recent Rudd Center research that examined on-line pictures and documented overweight/obese individuals as more likely to be shown in stigmatizing ways (e.g., overemphasis on body parts, eating or drinking unhealthy food/drink, not fully clothed, and less likely to be wearing professional attire). These types of images are problematic because they increase negative attitudes toward overweight/obese people, even when paired with a neutral story.
Messages encouraging overall health and diet improvements are not inherently harmful. However, the portrayal of characters in this ad stigmatize people who are above their recommended weight by emphasizing personal causes and solutions to poor health, and by portraying characters of two varying weight groups in distinctively different ways. Consequently, media such as this perpetuates the cycle of weight bias.