Killing the Childhood Obesity Messengers, Part 3

cataddictsannony-mouseAdverse criticism led to the shutdown of a Disney World attraction that had barely even opened. At the same time, Georgia’s Strong4Life advertising campaign drew criticism from far and wide, partly for the ridiculous reason of being too ethnically diverse. The slogans on the billboards have been called shaming, and Descygna, the author of a piece at Diets In Review, calls them guilt-inducing.

In today’s illustration, we see the humorous photo of a mother cat licking her kitten and assuring it, “You’re not fat! You’re just fluffy.” We also see one of the reviled billboards ads, in which a young boy says frankly, “Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did.”

All across America, mothers are telling their children, “You’re not chubby, you’re just big-boned.” If kids have adults in their lives who are feeding them this “big-boned” line, maybe the billboards are not such a bad thing. Awareness does, after all, need to be raised in both children and adults.

But a woman named Leah thought the whole ad campaign was very bad indeed, and started a Twitter movement called #Ashamed. The author tells us:

The billboards are targeted at the parents of the one million obese children throughout the state of Georgia, but the concern is that kids will see these messages and feel an incredible amount of shame, ridicule and guilt about their weight. The efforts of those protesting these ads have paid off and they will all be removed sometime this month. While the fight against obesity is a very important one, the fight must be against obesity and not obese people.

She also quotes another critic who says the ads are the moral equivalent of “throwing daggers.” But the main thing is, just like Disney, the Georgia Children’s Health Alliance caved. The billboards will go.

The folks who organized the Twitter protest would rather see resources used for excursions to farms, and for school gardens. Nothing wrong with those things, but it’s just possible that an overreaction has taken place. Maybe the vanquishing of the billboards is not, as they claim, a “victory for all.”

Dr. Pretlow notes with satisfaction that this year, for the first time, the Obesity Society’s Annual Scientific Meeting (scheduled for September) will include an entire track on Neuroscience. He explains the significance and the implications:

Now that there is firm neurological evidence of the addictive basis of obesity, we must take action on this, both in treatment and prevention. Publicizing that childhood obesity is not a simple nutritional ignorance or sedentary activity problem, is the first step in curbing this horrific epidemic… Child obesity is an addictive brain disorder. Obese children are neurologically hooked on highly pleasurable foods, such as junk food and fast food. They are not hooked on broccoli. The research evidence is still embryonic but it makes sense. It thus should help kids to understand why they are obese and give them hope for change, one step at a time.

Dr. Pretlow would like to see holidays celebrated in other ways than by showering children with candy. The sale of junk food to children should be restricted, and so should the advertising of food to kids — either severely curbed or altogether banned. Government can help by enforcing marketing restrictions and by taxing junk food. It has spread the word that cigarettes can kill, and it needs to send out the message that junk food can, too.

Kids, he says, need less stress in their lives, in order to reduce their tendency toward stress-eating. Somehow, a nation of befuddled, confused adults need to clean up our act, define boundaries, and set a good example. Children need the cooperation of adults, who must stop using food treats as bribery for good behavior or as currency to buy love. And stop telling them they’re just fluffy.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Georgia’s “Fat” Shaming Billboards are Coming Down,”, 03/01/12
Image of the billboard by Georgia Children’s Health Alliance, used under Fair Use: Reporting.
Image of the cats by Cat Addicts Anony-mouse, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

15 Responses

  1. Thanks for another good one, and that IS good news that obesity is finally being recognized as a legit biological disorder, much like alcoholism finally was.

    I”m with the protesters though. The ad clearly implies the kid’s fat because he eats too much. Would you put up a sign with a picture of a quintessential drug addict/stoner that said something like “Heredity and a crappy life didn’t make me this way, just too much booze and a lack of willpower sitting around playing xbox in my parents basement?”

    I get the point that they’re trying to combat the “enabling” of obesity, just as you don’t want to give the drug addict/alcoholic a waiver on addressing their destructive behavior, but the idea is to curb the behavior not blame and shame. That’s hard to get across in a catchy slogan on a billboard.

    Frankly, I thought the anti-drug ads during the 80s were way more effective, unfortunately the draconian laws have a ways to go. The one with the two 30 yrs old stoners in the basement, that chilled my shit right out, because I didn’t want that life. It was just an image, you wrote your own slogan and made your own conclusions. (The fried eggs ad, while amusing, was way more stupid and easily parodied. “This is your brain, on drugs, with a side of ham” was my favorite t shirt of the times)

    We have a long way to go with obesity, and I think as a society we’re groping our way towards an approach that will work for the majority of people. I very much see the parallel with how we’ve struggled to treat drug disease and drug users, whether it’s alcohol or other addictive substances.

  2. I hope that you understand that this was not just a humourous “take” on this subject it was a message as so many of my pictures are but if I don’t completely spell it out for people they seem to miss the point. Obese cats are also extremely unhealthy but supposed to be “cute” and it’s fatal such as Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma and a slew of other death sentences that people not only bring on themselves but are encouraged in the home and the junk served in school’s. Luckily felines do not share every single fate but there are too many to ever let a pudgy cat (or human) to “keep ooing”The very first time I ran this photo it was a social comment of obese cats. Other than that very good article and please you should alert people when you are using their photos especially when it is some type of commentary on a subject I did not ever mean to enable.
    Thank you.

    1. At first, I thought we had violated your copyright by using your image without your permission. That is totally against our rules, not to mention against the law. But there is an exception to that law which says that we may use images *without permission* when we are commenting on the image as part of a story. In other words, a critical analysis of the picture is protected free speech — including using the picture to make our point.

      In the blog post, news editor Pat Hartman specifically discusses the cat image, and shows how soft-pedaling obesity is dangerous for children. She is using the image to make an important point. It is therefore protected free speech.

      While I sympathize that you did not create this image as a way to enter the debate on childhood obesity, the use of your image here is integral to Pat’s post and is legal. The fact that we are having this discussion about the image is itself an extension of the story and illustrates why our society has to consider the messages it is sending about childhood obesity.

      With Thanks for Your Understanding,
      Content Director
      Childhood Obesity News

        1. Kaytora,

          When use of an image meets the standards of “fair use,” it does not require permission from the owner of the image. Here is the opening section of the entry on Fair Use at Wikipedia:

          “Fair use is a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work. In United States copyright law, fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author’s work.”

  3. I know childhood obesity is a terrible problem, and should be addressed fully by the medical profession, school lunches, and especially parent education. However, I do not think it is right to just take something off of the internet, and post it here as if it’s mocking the problem. C.A.A. is entertainment, not political, and if you really look at the picture, it is a momma cat talking to her ‘fluffy’ kitten. I agree that parents and others should not minimize the problem, but please choose what you use off of the internet and not put in your own interpretation.

    1. Kris,

      Thanks for your feedback. We have strict rules about using images on the Childhood Obesity News Blog, and our use here is both appropriate and legal. Please see my earlier comments.

      With Thanks,
      Content Director
      Childhood Obesity News

  4. After contemplating this for awhile I really wished I had been asked because honestly, I don’t think hurting a child’s self esteem is the way to go and this is an issue between parent and child. I do not really want to be involved. I am not one of those irritating “remove my picture” type of people but you are changing what I am trying to convey. You are putting it into the light of I am saying it’s ok when I am not trying to say anything about humans…just felines and the humans that need to be aware that they cannot decide for themselves. This is not 1000 percent the parents fault you know. When I was 12 I stopped eating meat, that was MY decision and my Gran could not understand it and every time she would put meat on my plate I politely declined or wiggled my way out of it. Just saying, kids are more independent than you think.

  5. SHAME ON YOU! You took a sweet picture of a Mama cat and her baby, a breed of cat by the way that IS big and twisted it to fit your obscene needs. YOU HAD NO PERMISSION! You need to take this down. The woman who made this picture had no intention of having it used WITHOUT HER PERMISSION by you this way. SHAME ON YOU.

    Now as to the your whole rant; you obviously do not have a clue. Shaming people does not work. Supporting them does. Any attempt to SHAME a fat person into loosing weight will never work and will backfire. Shaming people in general is not a usable mechanism for change. It is counter productive. So I absolutely agree, shame the problem NOT THE PERSON, which is in this case are children. Children are so psychologically vulnerable to begin with and you would THROW THAT onto their plate TOO? Crap like that will drive them to eat NOT to exercise. Get a clue. Support the children, don’t shame them.

    1. Peggy,

      Please see my earlier comments regarding our use of this image.

      Thanks for Your Feedback,
      Content Director
      Childhood Obesity News

  6. I agree with biological tendencies associated with obesity but nutrition & the more inactive lives our kids lead now have to be quite a bit of the problem! My mom was adamant about breakfast being cereal w/milk & orange juice – lunch was Campbell’s soup & one sandwich – dinner was BROILED meat, 2 vegetables, fruit for dessert…no bread, no potatoes. My sister was a stress eater who would snack on chips, Fritos, etc she bought from the neighborhood store and an overweight child. I ate Mom’s meals plus junk – twice as much as my sister did but I also was a tomboy who was ALWAYS outside playing, riding my bike & walking EVERYWHERE with my friends and skinny as a rail. The only exercise my sister did was walking to the neighborhood store. Even after my friends & I got our drivers’ licenses, we’d ride our bikes or walk because we preferred that to driving.

    As for ‘reducing childhood stress’ now — everyone is always going to have stress!! Why not teach kids how to handle it better and what is touted as being the best stress reliever?? EXERCISE!!!!! In spite of my tomboy ways, I was always last to be picked for gym class teams due to being a very shy child with very poor eyesight. It was embarassing but I lived through it.

    I whole heartedly am against candy & food as reward & did not practice it with my daughters. Partly because of not teaching them bad habits but mostly because I didn’t want them to rot their teeth with a lot of candy.

    What’s easier to make after a long day at work? Junk food picked up on the way home or from the freezer, heated up in the microwave. Microwaving fresh meat & fresh / frozen veggies still causes hot & cold spots so cooking these the old fashion way is better but takes a whole lot more time. Kids like easier things, too, so even if they love broccoli, they’re going to open a bag of chips or nuke pizza rolls rather than cooking veggies. It could very well be they’re not hooked on veggies due to the fact they’re rarely had them.

    Btw, the government can tax & restrict whatever they want but until society changes, I doubt that it’s not going to help any. Several reputable news programs have shown that being overweight is the only socially acceptable discrimination. Smokers have it tough, too, but they can pretty much hide their smoking habit and they don’t lose out on employment as readily. We have to stop making fun of, shaming & belittling obese individuals.

  7. I am utterly disgusted at the way you have traumatized the child in this picture. The main thing you are doing with this ad campaign or whatever you choose to call it, is ensuring that overweight children will become closet eaters and begin to eat even more unhealthy foods. Yes, I am speaking from experience, every time someone made fun of my weight I ate 3 times as much junk food and hid the fact that I was doing so. I will never be a small person as a matter of fact I was born weighing a whopping 13.8 pounds. I am also now 5 feet 11 inches tall. My size to begin with truly was hereditary but negative people turned it into me having some sort of disease and not treating me fair because of my size….these negative and snide remarks about my weight and size turned me into a closet eater. Instead of being ridiculed as a child I believe that being accepted as the Good Lord made me would have done a lot more good and I would not have became what is now known as grotesquely overweight. What I am saying, I guess, is instead of ridiculing and demeaning remarks about a child’s weight and/or size maybe we should all try a little kindness, acceptance and positive encouragement. As a loyal and loving member of C.A.A. I am very disappointed in the fact that you used their picture without their knowledge or permission. C.A.A. is about cats and cat lovers not about belittling or degrading a child about his or her weight. Next time, please be more considerate of the outcome of the things you post. As some children suffering from depression and obesity may find it offensive and take it as cyber bullying. If you were to use an authors words in a book as your own it would be considered plagiarism and I feel that taking someone else’s photo without their knowledge or permission should be punishable by that same law.

    1. Dear Tina,

      Thank you for taking the time to write. I hope you will look at the reply from our content director Steve O’Keefe.

      Best regards,
      Pat Hartman

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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