Do Obesity-Abatement Ads Promote Stigma?

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The Yale Rudd Center has made a series of videos about weight bias, and the nature and extent of this prejudice. At its mildest, weight bias can be described as a negative attitude toward obese people. It’s a form of stereotyping whose expression can be subtle or blatant, verbal or physical, and which can lead to stigmatization, rejection, and discrimination in many different areas of life.

Why is weight bias a public health issue? Because policy is aimed at putting an end to the childhood obesity epidemic, and anything that might impact that goal in a negative way ought not to be included in policy. If certain public service announcements and ad campaigns are adding to the problem, it really doesn’t matter how worthy their intentions are if the result is to worsen the situation.

In fact, evidence shows that the stigmatization that accompanies weight bias actually undermines public health efforts. Bias and stigma affect the policy decisions that are made, and not for the better. To top it all off, there does not seem to be enough awareness and discussion of weight bias in relation to public health policy.

Readers of Childhood Obesity News will remember the anti-obesity ad campaign in the state of Georgia a couple of years back. Bold and innovative but perhaps misguided, the collection of advertisements drew plenty of objection in blogs and online comments. Despite widespread suspicion that such efforts actually spread shame and promote stigmatization, the results had not really been looked into, and someone decided it was time to do a little assessment of obesity-related health campaigns.

One of the results is “Public Reactions to Obesity-Related Health Campaigns.”

From this short video, we learn that many obesity-abatement ads have the effect of shaming people who are overweight or obese, and this is counterproductive. For starters, being stigmatized is very stressful, both in the moment and in the way it piles up and weighs a person down even when nothing particularly traumatic is happening. And stress, as Dr. Pretlow has pointed out many times, is a condition that causes people to resort to a coping strategy they have learned will work for them in the short term — they eat excessive amounts at inappropriate times and in self-destructive ways.

Not surprisingly, once some professional scientists started asking scientifically-phrased questions, the Georgia campaign messages were rated the worst. This was measured in terms of stigmatizing effect, and low effectiveness as motivation, and a low level of intent to take the advice given in the messages.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Videos Exposing Weight Bias,”
Source: “Public Reactions to Obesity-Related Health Campaigns,” YouTube
Image by Yale Rudd Center.

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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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