Anti-obesity ads in Georgia (Strong4life), featuring overweight, unhappy children, have caused much controversy. The ads are aimed at awakening parents to the stark reality of obesity with such messages as “Some diseases aren’t just for adults anymore,” and “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid.” While the ads do a great job of pointing out the problem, Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrics professor at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School points out that “There is no mention about what a parent can do other than to say ‘stop sugarcoating the problem’.” There is also a worry that the ads will create self-confidence problems for overweight children. Dr. Miriam Labbok states, “Blaming the victim rarely helps. These children know they are fat, and they are ostracized already.” (NY Daily News January 2, 2012.)
The Obesity Coalition is among those who oppose the ads, writing in a letter to Georgia Children’s Healthcare Alliance that the “messaging of the campaign is purely fuel for the fires that represent the nonstop onslaught of teasing and bullying that America’s children, affected by childhood obesity, face daily.” Yet Maya Walters, a teenager who appeared in one of the ads states “I think it’s really brave to talk about the elephant in the room. It’s very provocative and makes people uncomfortable, but it’s when people are uncomfortable that change comes.” (NY Times Motherload Blog January 3, 2012)
Teaching kids to make healthy food choices and encouraging physical activity can help kids avoid obesity. According to a recent research study published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, “While physical activity is known to improve children’s physical fitness and lower their risk of obesity, new research suggests that it may also help them perform better in school.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also found that out of 50 studies, more than half showed a positive association between school-based physical activity and academic performance. ( ABC Good Morning America, January 2, 2012)
Another study by Dr. Kristen Copeland from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, published in Pediatrics shows that “daily physical activity is essential for preschool age children both for preventing obesity and for their development- their physical development and their cognitive development…When kids are running, skipping and learning to ride tricycles, they aren’t only exercising their bodies, they’re also exercising their minds.” Copeland suggests that parents get involved to help shape child care practices around physical activity. (thechart.blogs.cnn.com)
The Future of Children journal on Childhood Obesity suggests the following:
- Involve both children and parents in obesity-prevention programs, typically conducted within schools, child care centers, and after school programs.
- Improve nutritional and physical activity standards within schools.
- Limit children’s exposure to advertising.
- Improve preventive care and treatment for obesity and related conditions.
For further reading about obesity in children, please visit the Future of Children.