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Here's what the state of Georgia is doing to "fight obesity" putting up ad like this one.:



In media commentators ask "Are these ads unfair?" as if that were a question worthy of civil debate. My response follows:

This ad is horrible, degrading, classiest racist, self-congratulatory, elitist clap trap that won't do a goddamned thing to make a single kid healthier. It will, however, boost the self-confidence of yuppie parents with "acceptably sized" kids and enough money to buy organic groceries and send their kids to schools that still have functioning athletic departments and physical education classes. It is something else for them to feel superior about. Yeah, at least their little rugrat isn't fat, not like THOSE kids from the ghetto or from the trailer park who's parents just don't care or love their children the way that they do!

Such bullshit.

The problem is not obesity, but rather unhealthy food, and a lack of exercise-- these things are often the direct result of poor living conditions. This type of ad encourages us to look at the issue with blinders on. Many skinny-looking people have poor diets and don't work out, yet they are presumed to be in good health-- while someone like me, who has always exercised and eaten with great care --gets teased or told by doctors that I need to lose weight. For many their concepts of health are conflated with vanity and a Eurocentric, narrow concept of what is beautiful. What is beautiful after all is what is healthy we are told. But, if notions of beauty are distorted (and we know they are) then notions of health can also become distorted.

There are differences in the way people are built--- Yes, bones aren't big, (that makes no sense) but some people *are* more muscular, more shapely, or more petite. You cannot tell where a person started what they are doing or where they are going by looking at the outside only! You might see a chubby kid, and think he's in terrible shape but, for all you know, he has already worked hard to loose a lot of weight because he used to weigh even more.

I have a friend who is a bit overweight by the charts. He was born with a thyroid problem, from the time he was 3 years old his mother and father worked VERY hard to protect him from bad foods. There were times when I would get 2nds and he would get none, the poor kid was so hungry too. He never even got to have cake on his birthday. All of this hard work has paid off, and he is at a very good weight for his body type and height, he's active. He's going to college now playing sports and just an awesome guy. But, doctors, "friends" and people who don't know better still chide him -- none of these people, I bet, could have the self-control that he has for even a day! It really pisses me off.

There are ethnic differences too in the way people are built, depending on the combination of tribes that form our ancestry. Obesity is a convenient scapegoat that is used to mask problems such as environmental racism -- problems that are leading to vast differences in life expectancy that depend on race and class. But, by identifying obesity as the "cause" (when it is often more matter of correlation in some cases, such as cancer) it makes it easier to hide inequality and turn it in to some bootstrapping BS about "self responsibility."

The *entire nation* is gaining weight, even the rich, it's a population-wide trend. Such a trend cannot be only the result of personal failings. Are some parents lazy about making good food for their kids, or to quick to give them junk? Yes! Are there people who are lazy and who use excuses like "I have big bones" to hide the fact that their weight is a real problem? Yes!

But, when a whole nation starts gaining, as we have, and when the worst cases are concentrated in the most vulnerable populations: the poor, women,* blacks and Latinos -- it ought to raise some red flags.

Sadly, it's all too easy to go right on shitting on the people who always get shitted on and say what amounts to "Oh those lazy ignorant people how will we *ever* ~educate~ them!" --food education is very nice, but it can't explain or 'cure' what's happening. Education is not a solution on its own. Yet from some it is the only one we ever hear of "Just tell them to eat right!" -- because it costs nothing a requires the least effort.

So, what is happening?

To put it simply: we have subsidized foods that leads to weight gain and they are the inexpensive foods poor people turn to. Long working hours, bad urban planning neighborhoods where it is not safe to play outside, too few parks, too much traffic, too many cars, high asthma rates from pollution, under-funded schools, and TV, video games and internet being cheaper than ever lead to sedentary leisure time. Jobs in the service sector are mostly sedentary. So life is sedentary, and this is becoming more true for the poor than the rich for the first time in history. Beyond that, mental health among these populations has little support beyond the church. Eating disorders can lead to obesity as well, but the "tough love" philosophy stand in the way of healing mental and emotional scars.

But the bottom line is that obesity is a symptom of life factors that are far worse than obesity, it is symptom of poverty, oppression and marginalization. So it just makes more sense to fight the poverty, fight the oppression, fight the educational inequality and other root causes than worry about if someone's kid is fat in this very public degrading unhelpful way.

A better approach would be to offer a program that parents could sign up for to get help with ideas for helping their child loose weight. Something POSITIVE that won't just cause people to become defensive and shut down... and something that didn't blindside every singe bigger-than-average child regardless of their history health and background with food and exercise as if they are all little lazy good-for nothings. Another program that works is the 2-for-1 value of EBT cards at green markets, directly reducing the cost of produce... but that's only in NYC, and the green markets are only open during the day once a week so it is hard for working people to go... but still it's a step in the right direction. I also think a sugared drink tax where they money goes either to health-care or to methods to lower the cost of fresh vegetables and fruits is a good idea. I really like the ads we have in NYC that show how much fat you can gain from sugared drinks, and the calories labels in fast food joints. All good stuff.

But this ad? Burn it down. It's the biggest piece of BS I've ever seen.

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
cinema_babe
May. 3rd, 2011 11:21 pm (UTC)
That ad campaign is bullshit. Anyone who does ads for a living will tell you that the best approach is an educational one, not shame, shame will make people angry and turn them off to your message.

FFS
deedee_dancer
May. 3rd, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC)
"Big Bones didn't make him this way. Big Meals did"

richirch2
May. 4th, 2011 05:53 pm (UTC)
LOL!
youngcaesar
May. 4th, 2011 12:26 am (UTC)
Yeah, that ad is disgusting. And how sad it it for those actual kids in the picture? I can't believe this was a good idea to someone. Your analysis is right on as well.

It's problematic in general that the mainstream discussion on becoming healthier is so hyperfocused on "fighting obesity" as if changing people's sizes is the sum total of our goal, and skinny=healthy. Being whatever your healthy size might be would hopefully be an EFFECT (and for a lot of people that would mean gaining weight), but I think for a lot of people, fighting fatness is the end-all-be-all, and it hasn't even occurred to them to get beyond that.
(Deleted comment)
deedee_dancer
May. 4th, 2011 02:07 am (UTC)
Chess.
batty_gal
May. 4th, 2011 02:08 am (UTC)
+100000000
i_dreamed_i_was
May. 4th, 2011 03:27 am (UTC)
Amen and amen.
batty_gal
May. 4th, 2011 02:22 am (UTC)
I agree. Shit ads like that are counterproductive, and don't take into account what's the actual issue.

They also lead to the bullying and harassment of fat children. Just last month, a teen teased for being fat killed herself. How many children have to commit suicide before people take notice and realize that fat shaming is bullshit and harmful? Or do fat children not matter?
(Deleted comment)
futurebird
May. 4th, 2011 03:55 am (UTC)
Yes, please do.
sixpita
May. 4th, 2011 09:03 am (UTC)
My bones are big. I'm fat too, but I've definitely got a sturdy skeleton. That said, it's so strange to me that pointing at people and going fatty fatty fat fat is the answer when we so adulterate the food we eat. We talk about stuff like high fructose corn syrup (adorably renamed corn sugar) and insist it's just like cane sugar and it's fine in moderation. And maybe it is, I'm no nutritionist, but here's the thing: it is literally in everything. Everything. Even things that are ostensibly otherwise healthy, wheat breads, stuff marked low cal or low fat. We're dealing with places that have small or no produce departments in grocery stores, people who are too poor to buy food that's not extended with empty calorie fillers but still make too much to qualify or assistance which is often not enough anyway, and the policing of the purchases of poor people to the point where if they can or want to buy healthy food, WIC rules won't let it happen. No one wants to tackle that shit, though, for whatever reason they think the pointing and laughing is the way to go.
homasse
May. 4th, 2011 02:04 pm (UTC)
I went back to the US for a visit a few years ago, and negl, I couldn't eat anything. Every damn thing was so sweet. I had the biggest shock when I bit into a breakfast bar I had bought for myself since I knew I was still on Japan time, and didn't want to risk waking everyone up making myself something to eat if I got hungry. I had purposefully bought one that seemed like it wouldn't be so sweet--yogurt flavored--and I damn near choked at how sweet it was. Then I looked at the label and saw HFCS as the first ingredient...on something labelled as healthy and low-cal. It's just unbelievable how much it's in everything.
littleeva
May. 4th, 2011 12:30 pm (UTC)
To put it simply: we have subsidized foods that leads to weight gain and they are the inexpensive foods poor people turn to. Long working hours, bad urban planning neighborhoods where it is not safe to play outside, too few parks, too much traffic, too many cars, high asthma rates from pollution, under-funded schools, and TV, video games and internet being cheaper than ever lead to sedentary leisure time. Jobs in the service sector are mostly sedentary. So life is sedentary, and this is becoming more true for the poor than the rich for the first time in history. Beyond that, mental health among these populations has little support beyond the church. Eating disorders can lead to obesity as well, but the "tough love" philosophy stand in the way of healing mental and emotional scars.

You are correct. I used to work in a hospital in a poor area of the city. Many of the people who work there are heavier than the people who work where I do now, at a hospital in a wealthier neighborhood. Why? Many reasons, for one the cafeteria where I am now has more healthier options; the place I worked before had more fried foods and a whole deep dish pizza that you could purchase. Also this area has less fast food restaurants, while where I was before, there was a McDonalds and a Wendy's in walking distance.

I don't get though what you mean that life is more sedentary for the poor than the rich. I think life is more sedentary for everybody.
futurebird
May. 4th, 2011 01:02 pm (UTC)
I just mean that rich folk have more opportunities for active hobbies like running and yoga-- or even just walking in their neighborhood.
yalegirl03
May. 4th, 2011 03:09 pm (UTC)
This!
I agree 100%. I think shame is a horrible tool to use to make kids healthier. It won't work. It will just lower already low self-esteem.

I was a fat kid and I am a fat adult. As a kid I was shamed by my father regularly as if that would make me lose weight. I had a horribly low self-esteem. It was so low that it took effort to go out to be seen in public and to exercise. Going to basketball or track practice took a lot of courage, not because running was hard but because I didn't want to be the sweaty fat girl. Even in college the few times I'd go to the gym at late hours or in the small basement gym in my residential hall so that I wouldn't be seen.

As an adult I don't let shame keep me from doing good things for myself. I workout five days a week in a crowded gym. I go to the pool to swim. I wear bright colors and nice clothes. Everyday I fight the urge to hide. But, I am still struggling with the shame I had as a child. The other day on the train ride home from work I remembered when my father told me he was ashamed to be seen in public with me. It hurt just as much at 29 as it did at 13. The memory brought me to tears.

I think this campaign is misguided and doomed for failure. Why not change our food policy and school lunches? Why not take a serious look at our public planning processes to see what policies could be put in place to encourage healthy lifestyles? Instead they've chosen to be the school yard bully making fun of the fat kid.
innocencelost
May. 5th, 2011 06:31 am (UTC)
Dead the fuck on with this one. Somebody needs to be slapped for the ads.
torchic44
May. 6th, 2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
That's some BS ad campaign.
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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