New York’s disgusting anti-soda ad

The New York City health department has put together an ad campaign saying that, “Drinking 1 can of soda a day can make you 10 pounds fatter a year.” Here’s a gross, insulting video if you can bring yourself to watch it:

Not only is this ad fatphobic and insulting (it both says being fat is bad and that we’re already fat and soda is making us fatter), apparently it’s more about pushing an agenda than sharing medical facts. According to the New York Times, the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, pushed for the ad even though scientists protested it was factually inaccurate or at least misleading. There’s a bunch of science geekery in the article, but basically Dr. Farley felt it was more important to scare people away from soda than deliver totally accurate information.

I’m no fan of soda – I don’t like the taste and only drink it when there’s vodka or whiskey involved. I think Coca Cola’s a pretty bad company. But I don’t think fat-shaming ads designed to manipulate instead of inform the public are something a city’s health department should be in the business of creating.

You can contact NYC’s health department to let them know how you feel about this ad campaign here.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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Join the Conversation

  • Loren

    I really don’t see how this ad is fat shaming. Is it any better than this ad from NYC Health Department?

    People today have no idea what’s in the processed food they eat. I think it’s a good idea to explain to people what the consequences of their actions are, especially children who are blitzed with ads promoting happy meals and 42oz sodas. I do agree that people should stick to facts, but it is really shaming?

    On a related note, we put pictures of diseased lungs on packets of cigarettes in an attempt to show people what their unhealthy habits are doing to their bodies. Is that shaming too? Should that practice be stopped?

    I’m open to having my mind changed, but I don’t get how this is all that insensitive.

    • Nemo Omen

      Loren, Seamster and Deanna:

      I agree with you. When did the acknowledgment that being medically overweight is unhealthy and should be avoided become fat-shaming?

      Increasingly, I see blog articles that not only advocate tolerance of obesity (of course), they want people to emulate it and deny that there are any health or social effects when there so obviously are.

      And it’s not all because of the big, bad patriarchy (of which I am no fan).

  • Seamster

    I am a med student and I am A-okay with this ad.

    In the sedentary lifestyle most Americans have, a large part of our energy consumption is the maintenance of mass. Excess energy goes to energy storage, which increases our mass until we don’t have excess energy anymore. If you drink an extra can of soda a day and run an extra mile a day, that won’t happen, but that does not describe the typical American soda consumption.

    Additionally, the ad does not say that we are already fat. To say that someone will become ten pounds fatter doesn’t say they’re fat anymore than saying they will become ten inches taller says that they’re tall!

    There is an obesity epidemic in the US, and it is very bad. I am happy for you if you are medically defined as overweight and are healthy, active, and happy. You are privileged to be in that situation. This ad will improve people’s lives.

  • Deanna

    I can’t watch this ad as Youtube is blocked at work, however, I find a logical problem with this article.

    A) We can acknowledge that being overweight is less healthy than being of an average weight. That is to say, we understand that the more overweight one is, the more one risks his/her health. This is a fact.
    B) We can also acknowledge that soda (or pop, or rat poison, or whatever you want to call it) is not good for us. Period. It’s simply not good at all. Even the Diet stuff is horrendous. Okay. Glad we got that out of the way.

    (it both says being fat is bad and that we’re already fat and soda is making us fatter)
    Yes, being fat is a health risk and purely from a nutritional standpoint, soda does not assist in either losing weight or maintaining weight. The only real consequence from drinking soda is probable weight gain and dehydration. Now, again, I haven’t been able to watch this ad but…is this seriously an article that is shocked that someone would blatantly say, “No, you shouldn’t drink soda. Period. And you ESPECIALLY shouldn’t drink soda if you’re already overweight, as that will make matters worse.” I kind of thought that was…conventional wisdom?

    The ad may be factually inaccurate or full of hyperbole, but the fact of the matter is: soda is unhealthy. Anyway you slice it, it is unhealthy. Now, that being said, EVERYONE should stay away from it – not just fat people. However, if you’re going to say that being fat ISN’T a bad thing, I have to disagree with you. I’m all for having a positive body image (and I’m no stick figure either), but image concerns aside, it’s not healthy to be overweight. It’s not healthy to be underweight, either. It’s best to be physically fit, at least from a health standpoint. If we’re looking to minimize health problems, it’s probably what we should shoot for. Now, while this ad may or may not “fat-shame” (once again, haven’t gotten to see it yet), I do see a lot of “fit-shame” (if you will) on this site and it’s disconcerting. By all means, love yourself the way you are – but love yourself enough to strive for a healthy lifestyle.

  • Jason

    I have to agree that promoting healthier living and by proxy promoting not putting on weight that can easily be kept off is not a bad message to be sending the public. I’m glad to see other like-minded comments on here already.

    There’s nothing in here promoting a bad self-image or shaming those who may already be considered “fat”. The PSA is promoting the idea that consuming unreasonable amounts of sugary drinks can add fat to your body. Sounds like a great idea to me and probably a little better than slapping a big “soft drink” tax on to the products.

  • beth

    Just a note that, unless my subway-ad memory is playing games on me, this is playing on an old riff for the NYC Health Department. For years now there have been on-again, off-again posters of disgusting-looking “fat” in soda glasses on the subway. Besides the question of fatphobia, my gag reflex says there must be a better way to educate New Yorkers about healthy lifestyles other than presenting them with cannibalistic fat-chugging images on the morning commute, or now, on TV.

  • beth

    Aha! My ad-memory was correct. Not that these are easily forgettable:

  • growingviolet

    I’m with the above commenters. Can we please, please discuss these issues without getting into denialism or deliberate ignorance? The NYT is a general-audience publication that Feministing has no trouble discussing on its own merits in other cases; “full of science geekery” does not cut it.

  • Danielle

    People have become increasingly unaware of what is in their food and where it comes from. I feel like people need to know about the harmful effects of soda, but not if the information is inaccurate. Soda is not good for you, but there are lots of things out there that are equally bad for your body. If you are going to advertise about how bad soda is for you, you can include factors such as how is increases your risk for osteoporosis, decays your teeth, makes your bones break more easily, and that it rots your gums. Want people to stop drinking soda? Tell them that it increases PMS.
    My main objection to this video is that it puts fat in such a bad light. It makes fat look vulgar and disgusting. I look at this video and imagine a gloopy mass of 150 pounds of it stuck on my body. Why would we want to think of fat in such a negative way? Fat is natural in healthy amounts and makes me the beautiful curvy woman that I am.

    The truth is that refraining from drinking soda won’t make you lose 10 pounds a year. Not drinking soda is just another ridiculous fad diet that the average person won’t stick to. How about New York uses the money that it took to make this ad and put it to better use on education on healthy eating habits for a strong body, not necessarily a thinner one.

  • littlepritties

    This is totally feeding into every weight conscience persons’ nightmare. Not only is it an insult to people who are over weight but it is also instilling fear into kids about drinking something that will make you automatically fat. This is why the percentage of eating disorders in this country have sky-rocketed! Scare tactics are damaging, building a healthy view of food is key here. We have extremely impressionable young women_people_ and need to redirect the way in which we try and challenge obesity.