As soon as I learned that the topic for the 2011-2012 PRSSA Bateman competition was childhood obesity, I immediatly added the topic to my Google news page. It has mostly consisted of articles with tips for healthy food alternatives and small initiatives, until now. Advertisements put out by the Strong4Life Campaign have recently become the center of debate on the issue of childhood obesity awareness. The campaign consists of print and television ads, featuring overweight children with taglines such as “It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not”. The goal of the campaign entitled “Stop Sugarcoating it, Georgia”, is to scare children and adults into taking the issue of childhood obesity seriously.
The advertisments show the difficult reality of being an overweight child. There is no “sugarcoating” the messages in this campaign. The tag-lines in both the TV and print ads include messages like “Being Fat takes the Fun out of Being a Kid”. No one argues that the messages behind the advertisements are wrong, simply that they may be to harsh for children. However, considering that Georgia has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the country perhaps its necessary. They say the truth hurts.
Since the advertisements have come out there has been much debate on the ethics of the message. Many feel that the bluntness of the campaign is necessary. Linda Matigkeit, a senior vice President of Children’s Healthcare, felt the campaign was needed to get through to the audience. She told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
We felt like we needed a very arresting, abrupt campaign that said: “Hey, Georgia! Wake up. This is a problem.”
However many people think the messages will do more harm than good. Critics have claimed that the advertisements will lower children’s self esteem, but is that really who the campaign is targeting? One TV spot features a young boy askings his overweight mother” Mom, why amI fat?” Could it be that people are offended because the blame is being exclusive placed on parents?
Will this approach work? It’s certainly got America’s attention and is being discussed in almost every popular paper, TV network and blog. In the past the fear technique has worked for health problems such as smoking. Only time will tell the impact, but perhaps it will revolutionize how children’s health issues are advertised.