Israel’s Fat-Shaming Controversy

Israeli billboardsWhile Childhood Obesity News is on the subject of fat-shaming, Israel really stepped in it early this year. Actually, very few Israelis had anything to do with the appearance of various large billboards in Tel Aviv, some of which are shown on this page.

The unhappy-face torso says, “Most cases of depression among children are tied to their appearance. Parents! Help your children be happy.” The distorted boy-face is captioned, “When your child gets fat, his smile shrinks.” The seesaw picture claims that “1 out of 4 children in Israel suffers from obesity,” which seems to be an exaggeration.

Israel’s official statistic for overweight kids is 17%, and although that is serious enough to give the country the fifth-highest childhood obesity rate, people definitely did not want to be reminded of it in this manner. Dr. Itay Gal delved more deeply into the subliminal impressions left on the viewers’ psyche, noting that the appearance of the letter L is code for “loser.”

Who did it?

The billboards were the work of several advertising agencies, subsidized by the Parisian firm JCDecaux. The world-famous company gives smaller agencies a leg up by offering them the opportunity, along with complete freedom of expression, to produce socially relevant ad campaigns. In previous years, the chosen issues were pet adoption, road safety, and good environmental stewardship.

This year they took on childhood obesity, a subject guaranteed to polarize opinion. The public service artwork caused an uproar reminiscent of the outrage voiced in the U.S. back in 2011 when Georgia put up obesity awareness billboards.

Social media went nuts. Critics said the billboards depicted overweight kids as “unhappy outcasts” and called the messages insulting, lacking in compassion, cynical, offensive, cruel, repulsive, degrading, and even criminal. A citizen named Roni Gelbfish posted on Facebook, “Generations of psychologists won’t be able to heal the damage done by the new campaign against obese children.”

Dr. Yitzhak Kadman (or Isaac Cadman, depending on the publication’s level of Anglophilia) serves as chairperson for Israel’s National Council for the Child. In a letter to the Commissioner of Consumer Protection, he wrote:

Consumer protection regulations include a series of restrictions on advertising, among them a regulation requiring ads to avoid situations in which minors may be pushed to do things that can badly effect [sic] their health or wellbeing…. The dangerous ad campaign unnecessarily harms obese children and may lead them to commit serious acts, make them a mockery in the eyes of their friends and induce their harassment.

When a scandal like this happens, someone always brings up the Australian billboards that depict victims of skin cancer, with the object of warning people to wear sunscreen and hats. The models for those advertisements, and others who suffer from skin cancer, allegedly do not feel shamed. But those are grownups. When attempts are made to caution kids by the same method, neither the circumstances nor the results are the same.

On January 9, Israel’s media exploded with the news that the huge graphics would be removed. A spokesperson for JCDecaux said the firm regretted the feelings experienced by some members of the public and that the purpose was never to discomfit or ridicule anyone. The company also announced that in the process of taking down the anti-obesity billboards, they would install new ones with the message, “Now that the ads are down, it’s in your hands.”

Readers: Did this campaign represent a call for awareness, or plain old fat-shaming?

Source: “Anti-obesity ads stir controversy,”, 01/09/14
Source: “Does Billboard Ad Campaign Targeting Childhood Obesity Go Too Far?,”, 01/09/14
Image by YNET News and

One Response

  1. “When a scandal like this happens, someone always brings up the Australian “billboards that depict victims of skin cancer, with the object of warning people to wear sunscreen and hats. The models for those advertisements, and others who suffer from skin cancer, allegedly do not feel shamed. But those are grownups.”

    The thing is, if it were an ad campaign for adults the same fat-acceptance-activists/extremists out there would immediately say it was fat shaming. It doesn’t matter that it is aimed at kids or adults, the fact you depict fat as a negative, in their minds, necessarily means you hate fat people and therefore are a shaming awful person.

    If you attempt to draw the parallel between messages of cancer prevention are similar to messages on obesity prevention, you are met with vitrol and allegations that you’ve just said fat people are a cancer on society. Seriously – one of the biggest problems with the tumblr social justice warrior types is that they do not see themselves as people with fat that is mutable, but actually consider fat part of their very identity; any attack on fat is necessarily an attack on them.

    Don’t believe me? Perfect example on thisisthinprivilege:

    Someone attempts to use an analogy between hating cancer and hating fat to show they do not hate the cancer victim or the obese person but instead want to remedy the affliction and their words get twisted because modern day internet activism is about preserving feelings rather than getting results.

    The fight against obesity may be far more complicated if we have to worry about offending peoples feelings ahead of getting results.

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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

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