Public Debate Over a Controversial Childhood Obesity Campaign

Friday, February 10, 2012

Approximately one-third of adults and 17 percent of children in the U.S. are obese. While this public health crisis has spawned a billion dollar diet industry, reality shows dedicated to weight loss, and the First Lady's "Let's Move" program, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta didn’t think these were enough to discourage children from making unhealthy choices. The hospital launched a billboard and digital campaign featuring obese children with derogatory narration and captions. The ads are powerful, but they’ve also been criticized for stigmatizing overweight children.

Dr. Mark Wulkan is surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, who served as a consultant on the ads. Abby Ellin is the author of “Teenage Waistland: A former fat kid weighs in on living large, losing weight, and how parents can (and can’t) help.”


Abby Ellin and Dr. Mark Wulkan

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [7]

Darliene from Las Vegas, NV

The only thing billboards, such as these, do is to stigmatize people and set them up for weight cycling. Rebecca Puhl, PhD, director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University in New Haven stated in a recent interview, “The real reality is that significant, sustainable weight loss is not achievable for most people.” She adds, “We know that the most that we can really expect people to lose and keep off over time from conventional weight loss programs is about 10% of body weight.”

“Of course, some people lose more than that, but the vast majority regains that weight within one to five years,” she says.

Studies show that dieting, even that considered “naturalistic”, among young people lead to weight cycling [Naturalistic weight reduction efforts predicted weight gain and onset of obesity in adolescent girls;]

There is an evidence-based compassionate alternative to conventional dieting: Health At Every Size®. For more information on Health At Every Size, you can find a general explanation on Wikipedia ( or find in-depth research-based information in the book Health At Every Size - The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Dr. Linda Bacon (

Feb. 15 2012 02:13 AM

Childhood obesity has become a critical concern in our country.
If this slow- growing crisis is not address with vigorous intervention,
the country will pay much higher healthcare cost to care for
these future adults. Public schools need to put PHYSICAL EDUCATION
back in their curriculum. Remember when we looked forward
to going out to "P-E"? Thank you.

Feb. 13 2012 08:56 AM
mike from MA

Obesity is such a serious issue in this country and I don't feel it is taken serious enough. The importance of educating parents and kids on proper nutrition and consistent exercise is a first step. We have seen the reports on the health problems obesity leads to but yet we are still getting bigger. You have nothing if you do not have your health!

Obesity in America: The Growing Dilemma

Feb. 10 2012 07:53 PM
Donna from Colorado

Obesity has effectively been "normalized" in many regions, particularly the South. There is absolutely no personal incentive for anyone, parents or kids or people without kids, to change this. This billboard campaign is probably a revelation for a large number of parents. There is plenty of research showing that parents frequently do not recognize or care that their child is obese, and that such parents actually get irate if a doctor suggests otherwise. While the billboard campaign is a welcome change from the politically correct handwringing and plaintive messages to eat better, it's probably not going to have much effect in the long run. Who actually spends time reading through a billboard? Who stops their car and gets out to examine the message? At some point, the photos will just fade into the clutter. Once you've seen it, you ignore it. And unfortunately some kids may actually feel validated about their weight, by seeing someone just like them up on a giant billboard.

Feb. 10 2012 09:37 AM
Susan from Upper West SIde

I really wish the public health obesity would start much sooner. I see the roots of childhood obesity every day in my work as a lactation consultant. There is a strong trend towards supersizing infant feeding well beyond physiologic norms. I am now tracking the pattern of slower initial weight gain, followed by stunting and overweight among a subset of mother in my breastfeeding clinics. Irrespective of how much formula these mothers are using, the one commonality is supersized feeds just before bed. When mothers are taught to respond to their infant cues of hunger and satiety, they follow the normal pattern of healthy breastfed infants. If the concepts of assisting your child to respond appropriately to hunger and satiety, rather than overriding the hunger and satiety cues -- we would go a long way towards setting the stage for continued healthy eating.

Feb. 10 2012 09:31 AM
Charles Anasco from Salt Lake City

To the comment that was made about shaming the parents I'd like to say that poor choices may be a factor for some but another may be to a lack of choice. Maybe some parents lack the resources to provide better nutrition.

Feb. 10 2012 07:37 AM
Andy from United Kingdom

There is more than 25 years of solid research in the social sciences that indicates that moving towards something desirable is more motivating over the long term than moving away from something aversive. Shame and guilt only work in behavior change (e.g. smoking, exercise, productivity) in so far as you keep the pressure on. The moment you stop humiliating people their behaviour rebounds.

Feb. 10 2012 07:25 AM

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