The Edutainment — Fatsploitation Spectrum

Why, during Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, has there been so much talk of adults? Because it has been clearly shown that children who are overweight or obese will probably battle with size issues all their lives or, even worse, just give up and embrace the “there’s more of me to love” philosophy. Many obese adults are former obese children themselves. And they are likely to become the parents of obese children, modeling and enabling harmful eating patterns and food relationships for the next generation of kids.

So, child obesity and adult obesity are pretty much the same issue, a distinction without a difference. Or maybe more like a case of, “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?”

Another question that has been asked before is, at what point does edutainment ooze across the line into fatsploitation?

In 2011, The Independent reporter Nick Harding wrote:

Open a TV guide or flick through a magazine, and you will find a measure of our culture and an indication of where we are as a society. With shows like Half Ton Mom, Fix My Fat Head, Supersize Teens: Can’t Stop Eating and Fat Teens in Love…

He also mentioned the small but devoted fetishistic subculture that has grown up around very large women. Increasingly common is what some call societal fat phobia, which is said to be more readily tolerated and encouraged than other brands of prejudice. Harding says,

Fat phobia is fuelled by the way the overweight are characterised on screen.

So again, the interaction between awareness and media might reasonably be blamed for mischief. Still, entertainment can be educational, and educational materials can be entertaining, and what’s the harm? Or at least, that is one school of thought.

Temporal contrast

An interesting thing about a piece written a decade ago is that the reader can see how any predictions played out, and enjoy other timeline-related thoughts. Harding wrote of a popular TV show,

Drop Dead Diva took the controversial step of casting a US size 16 (UK size 18) actress in the lead role… Although Drop Dead Diva goes some way to redressing the fat phobia balance, it still employs stereotypes to explain Jane’s obesity.

However, it did last for six seasons (78 episodes). At the time, Childhood Obesity News said this:

Although Jane is the main character, very few of the episodes touch on her weight issue at all, and she is certainly not shown to be agonizing over it. And although plenty of other factors conspire to keep the lovers from reconciling, Grayson apparently has no problem, conceptually, with squiring a hefty lady.

The show’s creators did their public service duty of spreading awareness. For instance, a character revealed the number of women’s clothing labels that made items larger than size 14, that total being only 20 out of 900. Thanks to some forward-looking attitudes, the well-regarded series collected a goodly amount of thoughtful commentary and respect.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Unhealthy appetite: Is ‘Fatsploitation’ fuelling the obesity crisis?,”, 10/23/11
Image by sammydavis53/CC BY 2.0

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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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