The Today Show this morning ran a feature on Georgia’s anti-obesity campaign aimed at children.
My one-word summary of the campaign: horrifying. God bless Yale University Psychologist Rebecca Puhl (indubitably eruditer than I am!) for stating as much, calling it an example of “what not to do.”
If you are unfamiliar, the campaign currently features children who talk about how awful it is to be obese. They are child actors presumably echoing the words of children culled from a focus group. This is Maya Walters, aka Tamika.
I feature her, because she went on the Today program and allowed Meredith Viera to interview her, along with campaign spokesman Ron Freison, of Children’s Health Alliance of Atlanta, and Today Show regular, Clinical Psychologist Judith Sills.
In the interview, Ron Freison says that the campaign “gives voice” to obese children. However, in many of the ads, actors like Maya do not speak at all. The ad currently featured at the Georgia Stop Childhood Obesity website shows “Tamika” standing, silent and sullen while her mother talks about her, describing her as “thick.”
I used to act. I have auditioned and waited for a call. I know the joy of getting a part. “They like me! They actually like me!” Poor little Maya is swept up in that emotional whirl. She told Meredith Viera, “This ad actually helped me; gave me way more self confidence than I had before. . .to know that they liked me, just how I was.” How sad. The only part for a talented, young fat actress is playing someone who is plagued by diabetes and sad about her future, and whose mother is panicked for her health.
Yeah, that’s going to be a permanent boost to her self-esteem. I sigh.
As you’re watching the Today Show, you’ll see various billboards from the campaign flash by in the background. They each feature a fat child next to typeface. Here’s what they say, so you don’t have to pause the piece (all caps is the campaign’s editorial choice, not mine):
WARNING: STOCKY, CHUBBY, CHUNKY ARE STILL FAT
WARNING: CHUBBY KIDS MAY NOT OUTLIVE THEIR PARENTS
WARNING: ONLY 4% OF CHILDREN WERE CONSIDERED OBESE IN 1982. NOW, MORE THAN 30% ARE
WARNING: CHILDREN WHO ARE OBESE ARE MORE THAN TWICE AS LIKELY TO DIE BEFORE AGE 55 THAN A CHILD WHOSE BMI IS IN THE NORMAL RANGE
Yes, indeed, this will certainly boost the self esteem of fat children. It will make them feel good about themselves and want to exercise joyfully and eat healthfully. And when that behavior doesn’t show miraculous Biggest Loser results on the scale, they’ll be JUST FINE anyway. This is a GREAT idea.
Judith Sills was a wimp. She complimented the campaign for addressing “denial” before acknowledging that there might be a price to be paid, such as nine-year-olds dieting. She clarified, “We don’t want to separate out obesity, but we want to notice the problem.” Notice? Look at those billboard warnings! That’s more than just a little noticing, and does she really think these kids and their parents aren’t already painfully aware? Isn’t that kind of the point of the maudlin TV ads: to honestly portray fat kids’ angst? Yeesh.