Fighting obesity — or picking on fat kids?

Ads attacking childhood obesity look a lot like ads attacking obese children. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is running TV commercials and billboards with overweight children to make Georgians worry more about the problem, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The state ranks second in the nation for childhood obesity: Forty percent of children are overweight or obese. But half of adults don’t see it as a major health issue and 75 percent of parents with overweight or obese children don’t think their kids need to slim down.

Some public health experts, however, say the approach could be counterproductive when it comes to childhood obesity. The commercials and billboards do not give families the tools they need to attack the problem, some critics say. Others say the images will simply further stigmatize obesity and make it even less likely for parents and children to acknowledge that their weight is unhealthy and should be addressed.

“We know from communication research that when we highlight a health risk but fail to provide actionable steps people can take to prevent it, the response is often either denial or some other dysfunctional behavior,” said Karen Hilyard, a University of Georgia health communication researcher.

The President’s Fitness Award will be given to any child who can eat without sweating, reports The Onion.

Finally conceding it is unrealistic to expect today’s children to complete a pull-up, run a mile, or touch their toes, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition announced the new standard.  “We want our kids to set more pragmatic, real-world goals for themselves, and being able to run back and forth across a basketball court one time is no longer realistic,”  said Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the council.

It’s satire, but uncomfortably close to reality.

About Joanne


  1. One of their ads is about a little boy who wants to play video games because he doesn’t want to hang out with other kids. They make fun of him.

    Sounds like a bullying problem to me.

    I think my children’s weight is between me, my children and our family physician. One of my boys was 17 pounds at 2 months and now? He is 6 ft 2 and 160 mayybe on a heavy day. “Fat” children are NOT always fat adults. What if I made my son diet at 2 months? He no doubt would have a binge/diet cycle thing going on and would weigh 280 or 300. 🙁

  2. Is the assumption in the ad campaign, “Fat kids don’t know they’re fat,” in which case the ads aren’t likely to resonate, or “Fat kids know they’re fat but need some extra social pressure to lose weight,” in which case (putting other issues aside for the moment) one should ask “Where’s the evidence that an ad campaign of this nature has ever inspired appreciable behavior change?”

  3. Larger kids do know there big. Our son is big we have been trying to get him on an exercise program but having a tuff time. he was doing great but then he started eating more and has now gained another 10 pounds. The trainer says its because he needs to drink more water. Very frustrating any ideas

    • My 7th grade nephew has recently gone from chubby to fit. He has done this by running daily and consciously cutting down on certain foods like bread and chocolate milk. He played baseball and basketball before this, but he was primarily a sedentary, video-game-playing kid. My sister took him to the track everyday – and he ran, adding distance every week. He was seeing results in a couple weeks, but it probably took him 3 or 4 months. I think the regular activity is the key for kids. It helped him to have a sister whose boyfriend runs track.

    • The only way I know of to sustain weight loss over time is to eat less. And that’s a lot easier than it sounds to people without weight issues.

      There does seem to be a significant benefit to losing and sustaining weight loss during periods when the body is still growing, so it’s definitely worth trying. But if your kid is exercising and is physically fit despite being heavy, that’s a lot better than being overweight (or significantly underweight) but not physically fit. Fitness is also a habit much more easily sustained over time than eating at a level that leaves you feeling hungry.

  4. Our physical education programs, at least in New Jersey where I reside, are woefully ineffective at promoting healthy habits, providing valuable information on nutrition, and engaging in “lifelong” physical activities to promote fitness througout one’s lifetime. They also fail to help kids learn how to advocate for themselves in their household. This failure is a systemic problem in education. Kids need to learn how to promote healthy habits in the household, especially since many of the choices they will make regarding food and fitness will be heavily influenced by not only their peers but their parents and siblings.

    (I listed my website incorrectly in the initial comment)

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      It’s completely crazy to think a physical education class in a public school is going to significantly effect health. It is not a systematic problem in education. It is a cultural problem that resides in the home. It is way beyond the capacity of any educational institution (except for the U.S. Army) to alter the habits of a culture.

      Schools are suppose to teach children how to “advocate” for themselves in the household? Really? The apparent thought process behind your comment is frightening and probably one of the reasons our schools are so messed up.

    • I would support elimination of all required PE in schools, but have two short recess periods at the ES levels. In MS-HS, kids need to shower after PE, thereby cutting the class time available for actual exercise (which is already shortened by changing in and out of PE gear). Especially in a 50″ class, it’s just not efficient. Also, the kids most in need of exercise are very skilled in avoiding PE or expending any effort at same; it was true in my day and it was true in my kids’. In addition, even though childhood obesity has increased, so has the number of kids doing full-time training. Why should a gymnast, dancer, competitive cheerleader or swimmer who trains 20+ hours a week have to take PE at all? What about kids who are year-round hockey players, soccer players, runners,
      BB players, skiiers or tennis players? What about HS kids who work out regularly at their local gym or run through their neighborhood? I see plenty of kids doing both, even though I also see many overweight kids – even kids over 4′ tall riding in supermarket carts.

      Schools are not doing well at what was originally their primary mission; teaching kids to be literate, numerate and generally well-informed citizens. I favor returning schools to that mission, alone, and leave exercise, extracurriculars of all kinds, bicycle safety, social justice, multi-culti indoctrination and other nanny-state interferences to others. Push families to do their job, not enable them to shirk it.

  5. Richard Nieporent says:

    She’s not fat, she’s big-boned. 🙂

    But the pediatric health system stands firmly by its approach, saying the grim advertisements featuring overweight kids are necessary to get families to recognize the widespread public health problem.

    I guess these public heath people only consider it bad when its bullies that are making fun of fat children. Yes the commercial is pathetic.

  6. Darliene Howell says:

    I would like to recommend the free NAAFA Child Advocacy ToolkitSM (CATK) and other written guidelines/resources to assist you looking at programs.

    A Yale Rudd Center report reviewed existing research on weight stigma in children and adolescents, with attention to the nature and extent of weight bias toward obese youths and to the primary sources of stigma in their lives, including peers, educators, and parents. As a result of weight bias and discrimination, obese children suffer psychological, social, and health-related consequences.

    Rebecca Puhl of the Rudd Center further brings to light the stigmatization of large children in the following article.

    The NAAFA Child Advocacy Toolkit shows how Health At Every Size® takes the focus off weight and directs it to healthful eating and enjoyable movement. It addresses the bullying, building positive self-image and eliminating stigmatization of large children. The CATK lists resources available to parents, educators or caregivers for educational materials, curriculum and programming that is beneficial for all children. It can be found at:

  7. It’s such a shame that more and more of our kids are becoming obese. I am just turning 50 and when I was in school there was usually only one child that was overweight. When I see kids in school today, I can count at least 5 or 6 obese children in my child’s class.
    This is a dangerous path we are treading on. These kids are being set up for major health issues when they are older.

    Chris McCormick