Childhood Obesity Photoshop Fail

milk and sugar

What a lot of excitement! Everyone has something to say about the digital manipulation of a little girl’s picture. Last time, Childhood Obesity News talked about celebrity fat-shaming. This time, it’s more of the same old everyday fat-shaming of  children, according to those critical of it. Jessica Samakow lays out the facts for The Huffington Post:

California-based agency First 5 is running a new campaign to fight childhood obesity using the image of a chubby little girl drinking a bag of sugar through a straw. Copy printed under her photo says, ‘Sugary drinks like juice, sports drinks and soda can cause obesity. Choose milk and water instead.’ The only catch: this young model isn’t actually overweight. She’s been photoshopped.

The composite of the original and altered photos, shown on this page, was assembled by Marilyn Wann, who calls the Photoshopping “creepy” and brands the whole concept as “dangerous fearmongering.” Wann is no stranger to the topic of childhood obesity, having published a book titled FAT!SO?: Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size.

Why did the people who put together this ad campaign not hire an actual chubby child model? Was a theatrically aspirational obese girl deprived of income that should have rightfully been hers? Was the career of a new Oprah Winfrey crushed before it even had the chance to begin? Maybe those questions are facetious or irrelevant, but plenty of more demanding questions have been posed.

The words that go with the ad are:

‘Less sugar’ still has too much sugar. Sugary drinks like juice, sports drinks and soda can cause obesity. Choose milk and water instead.

Kelsey Amelia of RenegadeChicks acknowledges that “the campaign is meant to get parents thinking about what they feed their children in attempt to stifle the nation-wide climb of obesity,” but then goes on to say:

Let’s be real, putting a fat kid on a poster as a cautionary tale was probably not the most effective method of… anything.

Kids aren’t the ones buying sugar. They’re not the ones making lifestyle decisions. But they are the ones to see these images and internalize them, missing the point and focusing solely on their inadequacy.

Jezebel‘s Laura Beck sees no humor in the idea of drinking sugar from a bag with a straw, and just thinks it’s stupid. She objects to the poor quality of the photo manipulation job, and is particularly hostile to the darkening of the little girl’s skin.

Beck’s main point is that such anti-obesity efforts are worse than wrong, they are useless. She quotes a meta-study that reviewed 55 other studies, and found that all intervention efforts, including fat-shaming ads, average a one-pound difference between kids who are in obesity-fighting programs and those who are not.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “First 5 Obesity Ad: California Government Agency Photoshops Little Girl,” The Huffington Post, 06/06/13
Source: “First 5′s Botched Photoshop Campaign Against Obesity: Was it the Right Marketing Strategy?,” RenegadeChicks, 06/10/13
Source: “Government Org Photoshops Little Girl, Makes Her Fat to Fight Obesity,” Jezebel, 06/05/13
Image by Marilyn Wann.

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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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