Stop the cycle? Stop the ridiculous commercial

Heart attack.  5’9″ 300 lbs, 32 years old.

How the hell does that happen?

So begins the below video, which I came across on Facebook this weekend (email subscribers can view it by visiting the blog).  The video is titled “Stop the cycle”, and was created as part of Georgia’s “Strong 4 Life” campaign.  Georgia has a real problem when it comes to childhood overweight and obesity, and so they’re trying to do something about it. Which sounds great in theory.  In execution, however, things get problematic.  In a hurry.

The video works backwards from a heart attack at age 32 to the root causes of obesity in early childhood, focusing on several obesity-related stereotypes along the way. There are shots of meal time (ice cream and pop, lots of fast food – especially fries), lots of clips of being out-of-breath and not using exercise equipment, playing video games, being yelled at by a parent for hording candy in a sock drawer (!?), more than one doctor saying “you have to make a change”, and finally ending with a young mother feeding a fussy baby french fries because “it’s the only thing it will make him stop [crying]”.

So there you have it – if you feed your kids fries, they will horde candy and eventually have a heart attack at a young age.  Forget about a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors – feeding your kid fries is the gateway drug for childhood obesity.

This is not to say that I think childhood obesity is an unimportant issue – far from it.  And there is absolutely a role for parental education in dealing with childhood obesity. However, terrifying people into action doesn’t seem like the most effective way of dealing with the problem.

Our colleague Yoni Freedhoff discussed another component of this campaign earlier this year, and his comment gets right to the heart of the matter:

So while I’m all for public health campaigns to address childhood obesity, it’s not the individual victims that I think we should be focusing on, it’s the world they’re growing up in.

To help illustrate my point, try to imagine childhood obesity as a flooding river with no end in sight. While teaching children how to swim might help temporarily in keeping them afloat, given that the flood isn’t abating, chances are, even with the best swimming instructions, the kids are going to get tired and sink. So while swimming lessons certainly can’t hurt, what we really need to be shouting about doing is actually changing their environment and building them a levee.

The real problem with these ads is that they suggest that we’re going to solve this problem on an individualized case by case basis.

Not surprisingly, the video stirred up a fair amount of debate when my friend posted it to Facebook.  I’m curious to hear what you think.


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