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Will fat kid billboards make a difference?

As a parent, I know that rationalizing and lecturing doesn't always work. Sometimes you have to resort to shock and awe to get your point across.

So I'm not really surprised that Georgia, home to 1 million obese children, is running shockingly mean billboards and TV commercials about fat kids. The goal of the "Stop Sugarcoating It, Georgia" message is to startle people into recognizing that obesity is a problem.

One of the video ads features an overweight little boy and his equally large mom entering a room with two folding chairs. They sit and look at each other.

"Mom, why am I fat?" the boy asks her.

The mother bows her head as a message pops up: "75 percent of Georgia parents with overweight kids don't recognize the problem."

A billboard ad that is also part of the state's Strong4Life campaign shows a very unhappy and overweight girl, with arms folded over her chubby belly. "Warning: it's hard to be a little girl…if you're not," it says underneath.

Georgia has the second highest number of obese kids in the country, behind Mississippi. Florida isn't far behind them. Clearly, apple slices at McDonald's are not working.

Is serving up truth with two sides of guilt and shame the answer?

Shock ads and negative public awareness campaigns aren't new. Remember the "This is Your Brain on Drugs" public service announcements run by Partnership for a Drug Free America in the 1980s? Over the past decade, anti-smoking ads have depicted everything from rotting lungs to miscarried fetuses to get their point across. And a PSA against texting while driving last year drew mixed reviews for being effective, but overly graphic and gory.

The difference is that nobody in those ads was mocked or ridiculed for their bodies.

Is it worth using and hurting some fat kids to combat a national epidemic that now affects 1 out of 3 children? At a time when everybody is on hyper-alert about bullying, does it make sense to be mean to fat kids if your goal, in part, is to demonstrate how one of the bad things about being fat is that people will judge and treat you badly?

More importantly, will telling fat kids they're fat help them get thin?

Fat kids know it sucks to be fat, so tugging harder at their self esteem doesn't seem like it's going to make a big difference. I have to think that most of these ads are targeting the parents of obese children, with the goal of shaming and horrifying them into serving better food and encouraging their children to exercise.

The Georgia Children's Health Alliance says it decided on this approach after finding in research that 50 percent of the state's residents did not recognize childhood obesity as a problem and 75 percent of parents with overweight or obese kids did not see their children as having a weight issue.

Nationwide, the number of adolescents who are overweight has tripled since 1980 and the prevalence among younger children has more than doubled. Being an overweight child means increased risk of developing high cholesterol, hypertension, respiratory ailments, orthopedic problems, depression and type 2 diabetes. The hospital costs alone associated with childhood obesity are estimated at more than $127 million.

Something clearly needs to happen. Is sparking dialogue with in-your-face, frightening advertising our last chance?









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