New Fat Shaming Commercials Do More Harm Than Good in Obesity Prevention Efforts

As parents, we only want the best for our kids. We want them to do well in school, be happy, and live long, healthy lives. We have to be models for all of this, but what happens when the model doesn’t live up to the message? Our kids feed off of our actions, attitudes, and lifestyles. This is no clearer than in new television commercials from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.

In the first, two overweight boys have a classic battle over whose dad is better. Only instead of glorifying dad’s strength and smarts, one has a dad who can eat a mountain of French fries while the other dad can eat a mountain of French fries piled with cheese and bacon. One of the overweight dads in question walks up with a tray piled high with fast food, overhears the competition, and realizes no one in this situation wins.

On the one hand, we always appreciate more messages that serve as wake-up calls and help even one more family reverse the trend of obesity. However, we also appreciate the many vocal critics who sum these tactics up as “fat shaming,” which is nothing new, according to Leah Segedie of and

“Weight bias messages and ‘fat shaming’ have been going on forever,” she told us. After watching the commercial she responded that, “This approach does nothing but make the problem worse. When you tell people they are bad, you usually don’t get the response you want. They just stop listening to you. This is ineffective in my opinion.”

Anyone who has raised a toddler can appreciate her logic.

Leah knows a little bit about fighting against ‘fat shaming’ ads; earlier this year she lead the charge in having the state of Georgia remove their highly offensive childhood obesity billboards. Each board featured overweight children with messages like “Warning: Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid.” Two #Ashamed Twitter chats, lead by Leah and more than 500 people on Twitter, helped to have all of those boards removed. Her goal then was to pull the boards but to work with Georgia to share a less shameful message.

It seems the Minnesota could use the same guidance in creating more educational, thought-provoking messages.

In another commercial in the same campaign, a young overweight girl trails her mom through the grocery store with a tiny cart of her own. She mimics every motion her mom makes, filling the small basket with soda, ice cream, and hot dogs. Just like the dad in the fast-food restaurant, the mom soon realizes what she’s doing. The little girl’s innocent smile is proof she doesn’t know any better and is doing the same as millions of kids before her – trying to be just like mommy.

“Shaming is not the most effective way to convince anyone, especially adults to change their behavior,” remarked Brooke Randolph, LMHC, our resident mental health expert. “The one ad I was able to see seemed to be fairly respectful and stick to the intention of showing good parents having new revelations about what we may be unintentionally teaching our children. I often tell parents that ‘do what I say not what I do’ will never work. It is our daily decisions that are shaping the adults that our children will be.”

In both spots we see the mother and father have a revelation about the life they’ve been modeling for their children. Is that revelation enough to enact change in viewers? Or will they simply tune-out and ignore one more message telling them how they’ve messed up… and how they may be messing up their kids.

No parent wants to see their child celebrating the triumphs of their obesity, copying poor grocery shopping habits, or battling weight problems before they’re out of the juniors clothing section. But our children do model everything we do. These messages aren’t likely to be effective for anything more than stirring conversation, which has its benefits. But as Leah remarked, will those conversations take place amongst the health conscious “elitists” or amongst the overweight and obese individuals who ultimately need to take the messages to heart? With tactics like these ads have, those conversations aren’t likely to occur where they are most needed because they just get tuned out.

What Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota has gotten right is making some tools and information available that can help everyone. When you visit their site, it opens by saying, “It only takes one change to start making a healthy difference in your life.” The statement is entirely true; so true that it would have made an even stronger foundation for an anti-obesity ad campaign. The site is a resource offering meal plans for cooking at home, eating out in moderation, and a healthier grocery shopping guide. There’s even access to Health Coaching for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota members, which could be an invaluable resource.

Also Read:

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Georgia’s “Fat Shaming” Billboards are Coming Down

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