Georgia’s cruel weight loss ads bully children

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has produced a series of ads supposedly with the intention of curbing childhood obesity. I am including some images and video, but after the jump, since these ads are incredibly triggering. Because what they are, simply put, is bullying.

Billboards show black and white pictures of children with captions like, “Warning: Fat prevention begins at home. And the buffet line,” and “Warning: It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” TV ads feature parents and children looking sad and sitting in chairs that creek.

This is just cruel body snark. The ads offer nothing but shame, which I refuse to accept as an effective strategy for health education.

The way we’ve come to link fat and health is an overly simplistic take on a complex reality. What’s not complicated is that bullying is bad for your health. It’s psychologically harmful, which is a health issue, and which can lead to plenty of other negative health outcomes.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is standing behind their campaign, called Strong4Life. It’s a big project for them, with a budget of $50 million dollars.

I’m saddened by the idea people think it’s not just OK but helpful to be this mean.

To tell them bullying and shame are not health care, you can contact the campaign via Twitter @strong_4_life or on their Facebook page (warning: offensive text and images abound). You can email Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta here. While I won’t advocate calling one of their hospitals and clogging their phone lines, I absolutely support calling their giving line at 404-785-GIVE (4483).

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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  • Melissa

    I live in Atlanta and am constantly enraged by these ads. I don’t know what the best approach to fight them is; I tried contacting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, but they only seem to encourage the debate. Hooray for publicity, I guess.

    I truly am grateful to see them called out as bullying – thank you.

  • Courtney

    This is cruel. Kids – and parents! – who are already bullied by their peers are now being bullied even more so by the media, who is saying it’s for their own good. I, also, am greateful that these guys are being called out for this. They are completely ignoring the societal and class issues that cause people to live unhealthy lifestyles. Face it – fast food and fatty foods are cheap. Healthy foods are expensive. Exercising isn’t easy if you work all day and have to come home to take care of a family. The problem isn’t that people don’t realize they’re fat – the media is constantly telling all of us that we’re too fat. The problem is that people don’t understand how to live healthy lifestyles.

    I posted a similar thing on their facebook and it looks like many others have as well. Hopefully they can change their ways and actually accomplish something meaningful.

    • James

      If you really place the blame where it belongs you run into some politically powerful opposition. All of those companies that produce processed and packaged foods also have a lot of political clout. These are are the companies that worked to get pizza and tater tots classified as vegetables for school lunches. They don’t want kids to actually eat healthier. That would cost them money. They also don’t want attention brought to how hard they work to make people eat as much of their product as possible.
      Campaigns like this are probably even good for them. They reinforce the idea that fat people could get in shape if they only wanted to. Meanwhile, they’re working the emotional cues in advertising and adjusting the ingredients in their products to make people crave them as much as possible. They’re applying hard science that shows that what they’re doing ups consumption. In addition to that, they sell a ton of health-washed products that are “low-fat”, “sugar-free”, or “contain whole grains” that aren’t actually good for you. So if you’re not all that educated on nutrition, you can turn your fat shame into buying fat-free products that are loaded with simple starches and high fructose corn syrup, thus continuing the expansion of your ass while thinking that you’re making healthy choices. I don’t think that the fat kids of Atlanta stand a chance.

      • Courtney

        That’s a really great point, and something that I never realized. I was mostly just shocked as to how this organization is totally over-simplifying a complex issue all the while making people feel bad for being the way they are.

        After commenting on their page about how hurtful their advertising is, I made the mistake of scrolling through some of the other comments and seeing just how ignorant most of the commenters are. So many people seem to think that it’s as simple as buying fruits and vegetables instead of big macs. There’s more to it than that – many people have been raised eating “junk food” and were never exposed to healthy eating habits. This is not saying that their parents were bad parents by feeding them this stuff, that was what they thought was the best option. I would love to see some of these commenters feed a typical family on a budget of less than $30,000 a year like most families are. It probably won’t be as easy as they say when you only have 1-2 local grocery stores within 10 miles and are bombarded with fast food joints up and down the street.

        Also, as a side note, food addiction IS a serious issue that is also being overlooked. People often eat when they’re bored or feeling down about something (like being bullied for their weight) and that causes people to feel hungry even when they don’t need food. It’s something I, personally, have dealt with and still do very often. I’ve seen many commenters on their facebook page saying how there’s no such thing as food addiction and it’s just as simple as putting down the cheeseburger.

        • James

          I agree with you on food addiction. I’d venture though that a lot of food is made to be addictive as possible. So much food is packed with refined starches, sugars, fats, and msg to give people the kind of little high that they’ll want again.
          I agree with you entirely.
          Also, I have to post this:

  • toongrrl

    I feel sorry for their child models. Did their parents know about this? What the hell is wrong with people?

  • Andrew

    Sorry, please delete my previous comment. Anyway lemme try linking to the Harding site again. Fat is not always unhealthy (!!!! And $50 million behind this campaign? Sounds like some pharma/weight loss product money is backing this.