I don’t even know where to start. 

There is much controversy surrounding these “anti-childhood obesity” ads from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. I find myself with a pretty strong reaction as well. Apparently Georgia has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the country and 75% of parents with overweight children failing to recognize there is a problem(no clue how/where they got this statistic.) I think it is great that they are trying to do something about it. The website actually offers some good tips for families to move toward a healthier lifestyle. But these commercials are just wrong. So wrong. All wrong. Actually, 100% WRONG and only ADDING to the problem. And I will tell you why. 

I wouldn’t call myself an expert on childhood obesity, but I was an overweight/obese child/teen/young adult, who lost weight as a twenty-something and has kept it off. I am now a Certified Clinical Nutritionist and live a health-conscious lifestyle as much as I can. I don’t have kids but I have worked with young people almost everyday in my full-time jobs over the past four and a half years. I like to think I know a little bit about how they operate. That said, I disagreed with these ads before I even watched them. After watching the five videos, I am even more appalled. As far as I am concerned, there is absolutely no gray area here. I don’t have the ability to see any side but my own. Yes, I know I am biased because of my personal experiences. And I know lots of people out there think these ads and “tough love” are the best way to combat childhood obesity. But these ads are not tough love. They are damaging and misguided and will only hurt the children that they are trying to help.

I grew up in a healthy environment, with intelligent, well-meaning, caring, loving, supportive parents. I have two older sisters that certainly picked on me, but as far as I can remember I always knew that they had my back if I ever needed them. My mother says that around age 8, I “blew up” (these are not words she used when I was a child, this was a joke made fairly recently while looking at old photos. Even now, a little harsh to hear.) When I was in 5th grade – 10 or 11 years old – my pediatrician recommended that my mother take me to see someone about my weight. So like any good mother would do, she did. I remember the visit like it was yesterday. I imagine the woman was a Registered Dietician but I really don’t know. I forget her name, something with an R…but can picture her perfectly down to the smell of her perfume. Big goofy glasses, bright red hair, manicured nails and pink lipstick on her teeth. Her office was upstairs in the local Bell Tower Mall down the street from our house. The first visit was predictable with a weigh-in and questionnaire to fill out. We sat on the couch in the waiting room, my mother asking me the questions and filling them out for me. The only question that I can remember was something along the lines of “are you happy at your current weight”? My immediate answer was “yes.” And as much as I can recall, it was a genuine answer. I will never forget the “Really?!?” response and look of disbelief that my mother gave me, chewing her gum that she always chewed, giving me the look she still gives when I tell her something crazy. The thing is, even though kids made fun of me from time to time I’m not sure I ever knew that my “fatness” was the issue. If I look back on my life and had to pick the moment where my food and weight issues began, it would be my mother’s reaction, that day in that office. This is not an attack on my mother or that dietician in any way. I know my mother was only trying to do the best she knew how and I love her dearly for trying. I have never blamed her for my body insecurities. But I feel like I never had an issue with my weight until I knew she thought I had an issue with my weight.  In hindsight, the effects of this (starving myself, dieting and diet pills, a whole lot of oreos when nobody was looking) were things that I battled constantly through my adolescence and am just now getting a hold of. Over the last couple years I have slowly changed habits to lose extra weight. And at age 27 I have finally gotten to a point where I live a healthier-than-average(physically and mentally) lifestyle. But still, I sometimes feel that the relationship I have with my body, my weight, and food will be a struggle for me until the day that I die.

You see, even though these ads seem to be aimed towards the parents and adults, children WILL see them and they WILL be negatively impacted. I hope that any parent that watches these ads will get the message. But unless a parent is seriously motivated and committed, how will a parent know the right thing to do or how to go about it? Great, my kid is fat and is going to get picked on – now what? Starve them/put them on a diet? Send them to fat camp? Switch to diet soda instead? 

The real issue is being ignored. In this ad the parent is obese as well. How will that parent teach their child to eat healthy and have a positive body image when it is clear they cannot do that for themselves?! Not to mention other things that plague nearly any family from time to time – not enough money, poor communication, rebelling, etc. The issue is NOT “fatness.” The issue is lack of education and support for families who need it the most. The issue is billion dollar budgets for marketing candy and junk food to kids. It is people who want you to think McDonalds oatmeal is a healthy breakfast choice. It is telling people straight up LIES to get them to eat corn, soy, sick animals, and poisoned food-like substances for cheap so that they can make a profit. It is blatant misinformation being fed (haha) to the masses. So in 10, 20, 30 years when you get really sick, they can tell you that you need expensive medications and have to pay for regular doctors visits for the rest of your life. 

There will be no positive impact on an overweight child that sees these commercials (don’t even get me started on the use of the word “FAT” in them…asdjkfas;djkfasdf!)  There is proof everywhere that fear/shock tactics just aren’t as effective as we want them to be. People still smoke. People become infected with HIV everyday. I can show my students hundreds of disgusting Chlamydia pictures and some of them will STILL fail to use a condom. What makes us think it will work for weight loss? You can’t shame someone into health. These “strategies” hurt more than they help by making stigma even worse. Especially when we are talking about young people with already fragile self-esteem. Like I mentioned above, I grew up in a really great environment and I still have issues because my weight was pointed out as a “problem”. What hope is there for children living in homes where things aren’t so great? Sending kids and parents the message that they shouldn’t be fat so they wont get picked on is absolutely missing the mark. It ignores the very important element of health, and further supports the notion that being skinny solves your problems. Oh yeah, people will like everything about you if you’re skinny! Life is good if other people approve of your body! Skinny = healthy! AHHH! Like it or not, being teased or unliked by others is a  necessary lesson and fact of life for young people. We need to show them that they are special and capable and talented on the inside, so that they set goals and reach them to create confidence in who they are. We need to help build their self-esteem so that they respect themselves and their bodies and want to be healthy.

The only way to fix the issue of obesity is with education, FACTS, personal responsibility and a shift to positive behaviors. Stop with the DON’Ts and start with the DOs. When you plan out your day do you make a to-don’t list? When you’re headed to the grocery store do you make a list of the things that you don’t want to buy? No, because that would be ridiculous. You would never get things done or get the results you want. We need to be focusing on small things that we can all do to help each other be healthier instead of spreading the message of “don’t be gross and fat.”  We need to be teaching kids that they should want to be HEALTHY so that they FEEL GOOD physically IN their bodies and feel good mentally ABOUT their bodies. So that they can do all the amazing things that they want to do. So they can go play, and have adventures, and have the confidence to approach people they feel drawn to, and go after things they want and follow their dreams and have healthy offspring, live a long HEALTHY life and do awesome things that will make this world a better place. I don’t see how this campaign will help children do that in any way and it makes me really sad. I don’t know who was paid to create this garbage or who approved this extreme waste of money and opportunity to really help people. I wonder if they are at a healthy weight and eat real food? Were they ever an overweight child? Do they have overweight children? Do they have any children at all? I’d like to know.