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Is Targeting Overweight Kids Just Plain Mean?

Posted Jan 27 2012 4:22am

The state of Georgia decided that parents weren’t paying enough attention to the obesity problem plaguing children in their state, so they launched a series of anti-obesity ads called “ Stop Sugarcoating ” that spelled out provocative and demeaning messages.

Some of the messages in ads are:

It’s hard to be a little girl when you’re not.” (Meaning it’s hard to be a little kid when you are overweight.)

Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line.”

Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid.

The ads featured children and the one interviewed in this article indicates that she is glad that she participated in the ad campaign.

My quandary as I see it is this: Is is okay to target overweight kids by sending such pointed messages that are demeaning? After all, young children don’t take themselves to the buffet line – their parents do. I know that not every child who sees those ads can read, but a lot of them can. My kids, like many others, are very aware of television ads, billboards they read as we drive down the road, and even Internet ads that they see when they surf the web. They would certainly take in messages like the one Georgia has used and likely internalize what they read.

These ads seem to place the problem squarely on the backs of the child which in my opinion, will do nothing except make the child feel bad about himself. Put yourself in the child’s place. Here’s an ad that says, “Being fat takes the fun out of being a child.” What’s the child going to think? “I’m fat. My life isn’t fun. I’m stuck. It’s my fault that people make fun of me.”

The problem of the high rate of obesity in children shouldn’t point back to the child.

Children don’t go grocery shopping.

Children don’t purchase fast food on their own.

Children under 16 don’t drive themselves to restaurants or convenience stores.

Parents do.

It makes me sad to think of a child reading those ads and feeling worse about themselves than they already do. Kids can be merciless and mean to other kids. In many cases, overweight kids are teased and harassed. I’ve seen it myself and it makes me mad.

Blaming the kids isn’t going to fix the problem of childhood obesity, and it may make it worse. Just like we as adults often turn to food in times of stress, so do kids. The stress they feel over their weight can possibly lead to them trying to fill up the bad feelings with food. Makes you think doesn’t it?

Instead of blaming kids, or just focusing on weight, what if we were to make an effort to focus on true healthy eating in the home, at restaurants, and in schools. Wouldn’t that send a more positive message than pushing the blame on children and demeaning them?

I don’t see the government being very effective at handling this, so in my opinion, it’s going to have to start with each individual family. Within that family, the parents need to quit making excuses. I have heard many parents say, But my child loves soda and ice cream.” I said right back to them. “Who buys it?” We then had a conversation about stopping the excuses that often come with being a parent.

Sure it’s easier to give in and get the kids what they want, but it’s not always the right thing.

Like I told this mom, “If your child liked marijuana would you get it for him?” She laughed and said, “Of course not.” I said, “Well, giving in to food that is contributing to your child’s weight problem is harmful too.”

I’m of the mindset that kids should be encouraged to do the right thing by giving them positive examples, healthy choices, and encouraging words.

What’s your take on the Georgia campaign? Demeaning or not? Solutions? Diane

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