Shaming fat kids is not effective, or even right.
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!
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.