Is Targeting Overweight Kids Just Plain Mean?

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.

The Quandary

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.

Stop the Blame Game

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?

Ideas for a Solution

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

Photo Credit

38 thoughts on “Is Targeting Overweight Kids Just Plain Mean?

  1. Diandra says:

    I think these ads are ridiculous. Really. And not in a good way. Instead of giving the haters eve nmore ammunition, why not stop blaming and start doing?

  2. Miz says:

    and I makes me sad more than anything that some isolated “intellectuals” thought it would work.
    I dont think they did it maliciously—they are simply that out of touch.


  3. Julie Lost and Found says:

    I think it’s horrible. You absolutely cannot blame the kids and the onus is not on them, it’s on the parents. The obesity epidemic in children is a direct result of more junk food, convenience items, fast food, processed food, overscheduled kids, less playtime, and more video games and TV. It’s largely about convenience for the parents. Who’s in charge?

  4. Annette says:

    I have a concern for not only the children who are overweight but the other kids who have no weight issues that see the ads. I can’t help but believe that they will get the message that kids who are “fat” are not worthy. I think that bullying will get worse and that some kids may even get such a negative view of being overweight that they may even begin or fuel their battle with an eating disorder. So Sad. Sometimes I wonder how adults can be so stupid!

    • RNegade says:

      I, too, am concerned for the way this campaign tacitly gives permission for children to target (verbally or physically abuse) children who may be struggling with body image issues. They see ads like these and form negative opinions based on size. More torment could send the most vulnerable children over the edge–to try disordered eating or other desperate measures in the hope of escaping cruelty. The sponsors (hospital, state, and medical professionals!) should be ashamed of using symbolic violence against children.

  5. Leah says:

    I don’t like that campaign for every reason you stated, Diane.

    I was a chubby child and always had fun and made friends easily. Now, I wasn’t obese like many I see today and that’s because, as my mom told me a few times, “Can you imagine if I would’ve let you have extra cookies every time you asked? You were pudgy, and I didn’t allow you to overindulge. You got a serving and then that was it.”

    On the flip side, my husband thinks if those ads will wake up the adults to the children, like the Meth ads woke up many people, then they are fine.

    I can see his point, but I think the ads need to be targeted to the adults and not use overweight children in them. Those kids will go home remembering everything they had to say in a script and it will bother them, I don’t care how much they say it doesn’t.

    I can’t think of a solution except that those of us who are trying to eat better just live what we preach so that others will see the difference and desire change in their own lives.

    By the way, I like your reply to the mom. Funny we know drugs are bad, but don’t want to admit overeating and junk food can be just as bad.

    Have a good weekend, Diane!

  6. Kim in Tn says:

    This is terrible! My heart hurts for those children! I agree with the things you mentioned, Diane, but I think the bigger issue is, once again, the government thinking it has the right and the responsibility to raise our children…further down the dangerous, slippery slope! Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  7. Margaret says:

    I wonder if in the name of saving money if the Georgia schools have taken out Phys Ed. And I wonder if kids in the name of more class time, have one recess a day instead of two like we had when I was a kid, or just a few minutes at lunch. We played active games at recess twice a day until 5th grade and once a day in 5th as I recall. It’s not just bad food choices, but it’s also lack of exercise. Parents are afraid to let their children go to the park or ride bikes out of sight, so there is much less active play now. It is a national problem and getting worse, but weight gain is always about eating more calories than we burn. It is also about working moms who can’t supervise, prepackaged snack food lunches and much more. It is not about the kids. It’s about the society they live in.

    Horrible ads.

  8. Marie@feedingfive says:

    I feel as you do that it is the parents responsibility. If restaurants, schools, stores have bad food, you as a parent should not subject your children to their food.

    Maybe the ads will be effective, something has to be done. I don’t think they’ll make the kids feel any worse than they already do.

  9. Maureen says:

    This is horrible! It is NOT the kids fault that they are overweight. I work at a school and 9 times out of 10, the parent of an overweight child is also overweight…shocker, right?!?! The reason these parents don’t say no to their child is because then they would also “miss out” on all the junk food they are eating at home {or on the road}.

    Mind you, I do think there is a HUGE difference between a child being chubby and a child being overweight.

  10. Amanda says:

    To me, the ads are essentially government-sponsored (and initiated) bullying. Overweight kids know they’re overweight, and if they weren’t that self-aware you can bet some mouthy child in their class thought they should let them know. This campaign just adds more fuel to the fire.

    I agree that the focus needs to be on the parents, and on healthy foods and practices within the home (and in our schools, too). As you pointed out, the children aren’t the ones buying the groceries and making the food choices for the family. Or at least they shouldn’t be. If they are, it’s the parents who need the intervention, not the children.

  11. Meg says:

    I was out to dinner once with three old high school friends. All three are moms; I am not (but I am a teacher and worked with elementary kids). We were discussing what kids eat and one mom shared that her son refused to eat anything but frozen fish sticks, pizza, and one other unhealthy option. And all I could think was, “You gave him this stuff, and you still give it to him when he refuses to eat anything else!”

    My parents gave my brother and I two options with every meal growing up:

    1. Take it, or
    2. Leave it.

    If we chose option 2, we could go to bed hungry. We usually ended up eating the healthy food to avoid that fate.

    You are absolutely right–it must start at home. However, most parents right now grew up without proper education about nutrition and physical activity–I know *I* did, and I’m learning now, in my thirties, by working with a trainer.

    Sorry for the novel. I’m very passionate about this subject!

  12. Janis says:

    I don’t think that being teased is a valid reason to change oneself AT ALL. Getting As makes the other kids target you. Being unusually tall or playing an instrument makes the other kids target you. Being gay or lesbian is the same way. Guess your violin-playing kid who gets bullied should stop doing that, too.

    The ONLY reasons to lose weight are health and mobility. I dislike the fact that these campaigns are losing focus and adding in the falsehood that other people’s meanness is EVER one’s own fault. They could have simply stuck to campaigns that encouraged people to recognize their kids’ obesity by getting out of denial about their own. But they effed up by acting like teasing is ever a valid reason to change oneself. It never is.

  13. kwithme says:

    I think the ads are really sad. The kids don’t need to be targeted, the parents do.

    When my oldest was 2, we were at a Christmas party at my aunt and uncle’s home. My daughter was eating fresh fruit and veggies and a piece or two of meat. My cousin marveled because her daughter (18 mos) would only eat chips and cookies. I probably should have said, have you ever tried not giving it to her? Now, the girls are 10 and my daughter is an appropriate weight for her height and my cousin’s daughter has been overweight/obese since she was 18 months old. It breaks my heart.

    Another difficult situation is with one of my scouts. She has been overweight the whole time I have known her (5 years). When she was 7, she would ask for seconds (and thirds) of our snack. I did not feel I could refuse if there was more and everyone had their share. I did not want to draw attention to the amount she was eating as I did not know if she had eaten lunch or what meals were at home. But after the meeting where she ate 8 clementines, I just decided to tell whoever was bringing snack to only bring one for each girl. Everyone got their share and that was it. As a scout leader, I felt I needed to model healthy choices but felt hamstrung because I did not want to embarrass this girl.

  14. Taryl says:

    I was amazed to see some support of this ad campaign on other weight loss blogs, actually. I was horrified when I saw it, both at the awful tone it set, the parading of children around as examples of failure (by the parents) and the complete lack of real solutions they offered. State sponsored bullying is RIGHT ON.

  15. julie says:

    I saw a little blurb in my paper yesterday about a 17 year old girl who passed out yesterday, I think she had anemia and varicose veins in her tongue, of all strange things. She claims she eats ONLY Chicken McNuggets and french fries, and that’s been her diet since she was two. She wasn’t overweight, otherwise everyone would be screaming. I can see how parents can’t really control what a 17 year old eats outside of the home, but seems that when she was two, her parents would have been able to change that.

    On a more relevant topic, I don’t like those ads, they give me a bad feeling, but I don’t know an easy solution, it seems the problem is much larger than parents letting their children eat too much junk and processed food. Many places have no parks, no sidewalks, mediocre produce and restaurants and just not many good options. Eating well is swimming against the tide.

    • LovesCatsinCA says:

      I found that article. It said:

      The underlying cause is a rather unhealthy eating habit: only eating chicken nuggets. The teenager has been eating nuggets from McDonald’s and occasionally KFC since the age of 2; she reportedly never eats any fruits or vegetables (fries don’t count).

      She sometimes eats toast and chips, but most meals consist of nuggets, fries, and a free toy (her collection of free toys now fills four bin bags). The kicker? “I’m starting to realize this is really bad for me,” she told The Sun .

      Okay, she’s JUST realizing that? And her parents let her just go and buy chicken nuggets day after day for FIFTEEN YEARS? Amazing.

  16. Siobhan says:

    I can’t imagine that the ad would help at all. As many posters have said, obese kids know they are obese, they know they can’t do things other kids can do. It does come down to the families … that’s where they get the food they put in their mouths.

  17. Sheri - Motivation for Health & Fitness says:

    I think its a shame that there are campaigns out there blaming the child for food addiction. If the parent knew what nutrition was and how to eat properly the children most likely would not have a problem.

    I so wish my Mom knew that Oreo’s or Mashed Potatoes were addictive foods and never gave them too me. I am 43 years old and still fight the addictions, but the more I learn they get a little easier to control.

  18. Jody - Fit at 54 says:

    I have read a lot of posts about this & to me, it always comes back to the family & what the lids learn in the house. The government can’t control what the parents do in the house. The parents have to take an active role in eating better, moving more & learning more. It starts there.

  19. Big Girl Bombshell says:

    I have sooooooo many emotions and thoughts about this whole thing….

    yes it starts at home……BUT that is where the problem starts first…….so why can we imagine that the solution is in the same four walls…..

    Maybe those kids needed a voice to say I don’t like this…and this is how I feel…won’t someone hear me or help me…………….

    Its correct that we wouldn’t give kids drugs but food is so often the punishment or the reward…maybe THAT’s what the focus should be rather than the amount of food………give them something to FEEL good about and PROUD…instead of just getting good grades…….fitting in at school….or turning to food as the only friend they may have

  20. LovesCatsinCA says:

    The kid in your illustration is “chubby” not obese. That’s all you used to see when I was young. Obesity happened in high school and later. And I don’t think the kids need to feel bad about themselves. No it’s not the child’s fault. Personally, when I see an obese, and not just chubby, child who is under 14, I think that’s a form of parental neglect at a minimum and perhaps even abuse.

    One, the parents ARE the people bringing the food home. Two, if a child is eating enormous amounts emotionally, or a chlid is gaining lots of weight and food isn’t disappearing, there is a reason. It needs to be explored whether with a counselor or an endocrinologist depending on the reason. Some kids have endocrine problems and metabolic disorders–that needs to be addressed. Some kids have emotional issues–that also needs to be addressed.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      I agree with your characterization of the picture, but I didn’t want to put a terrible picture of an obese small child up. The parents are the ones bringing the food home, preparing junk, and allowing small children to drink bottles of soda while strolling the grocery store aisles. I see it every time I’m in Wal-Mart or Kroger. Makes me sad.

  21. cookie says:

    I haven’t seen lots of these ads, but from what I’ve seen I don’t feel like anyone is putting the blame on the children but rather on their parents. And that’s the point, isn’t it? As you said, the children are not buying all that unhealthy stuff. Their parents do. It is their responsibility to raise their children and make sure they become healthy, responsible adults. And lots of them probably don’t see what they are doing to their children, if they let them eat whatever they want.

  22. Mama Vega says:

    Let me first state that my comments may not be well received, but I ask you to consider them carefully before voicing an opinion. I have taught grades pre-school through college with over 25 years experience, I have raised 5 children and currently have 3 grandchildren.

    As a culture, we have gotten away from it takes a village to raise an individual that will contribute positively to society. It used to be the neighbor could correct the child and when the child got home, they got in trouble again. Parents may have worked all day, but they still made home cooked meals. Children took leftovers to school for lunch and bagged lunch was ok,

    Parents, grandparents and other adults were less concerned about your “feelings” and more concerned about if it was in the best interest of the child. What I have read in these posts is focusing on the “feeling, emotional aspect” and not on the bigger picture.

    If something is not done DRASTICALLY and IMMEDIATELY, these children will die BEFORE their parents. Unfortunately, far too many of these parents do not know how to prepare well balanced meals. EDUCATION is the key. A couple of you stated that you recognized the child was eating too much from the age of 2 and now the same child is over weight. The solution was limit how much was offered to each child. What did that solve? Nothing, the child was not educated nor was the parent. The problem obviously still exists.

    Not having parks or sidewalks is no excuse either. exercise can take place almost any place. If the parents and the child and all the rest of us too increased our mobility at a faster pace, we would burn more calories. Here are some examples: jog in place while washing dishes, jog in place while brushing your teeth the whole time, pretend to jump rope or do jumping Jacks while watching TV on the commercials, park away from the front door when going shopping and walk briskly. Be creative!

    This is not blaming, but educating, modeling and reinforcing by the entire society. Stop attempting to be politically correct and be direct. An individual whether a child or adult knows if what you are saying is with malice or for their well being. If we are not going to be of assistance, then we are contributing to the problem. Stop letting “feelings” cloud the fact everyone is responsible including the child. And yes, you can control what your child at 17 does outside your home.

    • Diane Carbonell says:

      You are not out of line in my book. These children will not have the lifespan that their children do unless things change. In this culture of acceptance, it can be hard to stand up and say that the epidemic of childhood obesity is not okay. Educating, modeling, and reinforcing are healthy positive strategies that really can make a difference if the parents and educators can just listen and embrace them.

  23. Melisa @ Achieving Equilibrium says:

    Good points! It is so much better to frame these messages in a positive light! I think a large part of the problem is that parents of overweight kids were the ones that “taught” their children these unhealthy habits. So parents have to admit changes need to be made to their own lifestyles, which requires taking responsibility and admitting fault – not an easy thing to do. A more effective campaign would be to suggest small, healthy changes that could be incorporated into people’s daily lives. Things like, Go for a walk as a family. Eat a fruit or veggie with every meal.

    • Mama Vega says:

      You are absolutely correct! The problem is that many of the parents are over weight themselves and do not know HOW. For example, when we say eat more fruits and vegetables, they will say french fries are vegetables and pasta sauce on pizza is fruit/vegetable.

      Ironically, the new school lunch program being adopted to encourage more fruits and vegetables has met with some controversy because the example I gave above is exactly what it states. No one is paying attention to the carbs turning to sugar and PE programs being cut.

      It is my opinion, the children are being focused on because it may be easier to change their behavior than the parents. The parents generally buy what the children WANT. If they can get the children to WANT the fruits and vegetables then the parents will go along.

      You are definitely correct!

  24. E. Jane says:

    I think this campaign is well-meaning, but misguided. Both overweight children and their parents know what childhood obesity looks like. Perhaps they would be better off putting their money into free clinics for obese children and their parents, so that they can learn more about the condition and what to do about it. Targeting children is giving license for other children to bully and tease them. This will not help!

    Parents often struggle with knowing how to deal with an overweight child, and then some parent are obese themselves, so it’s a family issue. They need help, not shame.

  25. Dr. J says:

    Sorry Diane, but I’m in the supportive camp. This is a serious problem and a wake-up call for people is more than necessary.

    If we keep arguing as to why this plan is bad or that plan is bad, blah blah blah, we will have an anti-obesity program like the present situation with our government! Try and modify is my suggestion with the emphasis on try!

  26. La. says:

    Very insightful! When I read the ads I totally didn’t think of it that way. I didn’t feel that they were saying it was the kids fault, but the parents. It DOES stop at the buffet line, so don’t take your kids. It IS hard to be a kid when you are fat and being made fun of…so stop buying your kids crap. I never thought about it from the view of a child, but I see now how that WOULD be hurtful. It’s really sad. Gooner and I were at the park this week and I was SHOCKED by all the picnic McDonald’s lunches from overweight Moms with small children. The kids were still young enough to run all that extra crap off, but they won’t for long!

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