“It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” Those were the hurtful words on just one of the many billboards used in the Strong 4 Life campaign in Georgia in 2012. The ads were intended to be helpful – to give parents a wake-up call and encourage them to help their children lead healthier lives. They wanted to open up the conversation on obesity. What they really opened up was an invitation for fat-shaming and weight bias.
Strong 4 Life’s point was to be controversial. They wanted the controversy to bring attention to the cause. What they didn’t expect is the message becoming harmful to children. No one is refuting that Georgia has a large scale problem with obesity. It’s the tactics some of these public health campaigns use that inadvertently harm children in the process.
Fight Obesity, Not Obese People
Overweight children had to walk by billboards that mocked their size for months. With some of the highest childhood obesity in the US, I’m sure it was hundreds of children that had to bear this humiliation and shame. What’s even more shocking is studies show when children of a normal weight are exposed to negative representations of overweight children, teasing occurs which bring even more shame. These negative representations of overweight children only succeed in ostracizing their intended target with ridicule instead of helping them. These are messages we need to stop.
Childhood Obesity isn’t Our Biggest Problem
In 2007 only 12 in 100,000 children had Diabetes where as 2,700 children in 100,000 had eating disorders. These are older statistics, but what they communicate is eating disorders are far more prevalent than obesity related diseases. And if it’s far more common to create an eating disorder in children, then obesity driven public media campaigns should never include images that would potentially create body image issues. In fact, The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity has been studying the phenomenon of weight bias for quite some time.
What You Can Do?
It’s imperative that as parents we respect children of all sizes. Even if our child is not overweight, they may still suffer from body image issues. And just to be sensitive to other children, we must watch what we say around them as well. Make health the mission instead of body size. Please watch the video above created by the Yale Rudd Center and educate yourself on what you can do in your home to stop weight bias messages.