MN Blue Cross' new anti-obesity ads spark controversy: Do they shame fat people? [VIDEO]
The ads take fat parents to task for perpetuating cycles of obesity.
Earlier this month, a study concluded that half of Minnesota will be obese by 2030. In hopes of preventing that from happening, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota recently released two new anti-obesity ads.
But some allege the ads hate the player rather than the game, so to speak. Instead of addressing the unhealthiness of cheap foods, critics say the ads end up doing little more than shaming fat parents and kids.
Here are the two ads in question:
The Atlantic interviewed Dr. Marc Manley, vice president and chief prevention officer for Blue Cross, to learn about the thought process behind the ads. Here's some of what he said:
Manley insists that the more serious campaign, finger-pointing and all, is what Minnesota needs. What convinced him was an analysis that predicted the current generation of children will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. This is the first time in U.S. history that this is anticipated to happen, he says, and obesity is the main cause.
At the same time, they didn't want to alienate any Minnesotans. "We wanted to portray these as normal people, good parents, who had a good relationship with their kids," he explained. The people in the ads aren't locals, so they aren't likely to be recognized in the street or associated with the campaign.
But they're overweight, said Manley, because two-thirds of Minnesotans are overweight. And their target audience needs to recognize themselves in the commercials in order to effect what he hopes will be an "aha moment," where they realize that "the example of what they buy and what they eat may be sending the wrong message to their kids."
But in a Jezebel column, Lindy West -- an author who says she's struggled to control her weight throughout life despite maintaining healthy eating and workout habits -- characterizes the ads as making her "want to die."
The true problem, West argues, is that fatty foods are cheap to produce and consume. And even if that weren't the case, fat people would still exist -- after all, they've seemingly always existed -- so why pile on by publicly shaming them as well?
From her column:
Look. I don't want people to die. I don't want the next generation of kids to have lower life-expectancies than their parents. I want people to be healthy! But first of all, though weight loss can certainly improve some people's health, "fat" does not universally equal "unhealthy." Health itself is a much more effective and specific goal. And campaigns like this--which target fat people instead of the system that makes them fat--do nothing but hurt that supposed cause. An anti-fat-people campaign is still an ANTI-PEOPLE CAMPAIGN. And I'm pretty sure that treating people (fat people are people!) like animals, cartoonish ice cream addicts, and disease vectors is decidedly bad for people's health. The times in my life when I've been healthiest align directly with the times I've been happiest. This is not a loose correlation.
Here's a thought, America: If you really want people to be healthier (I'm not entirely convinced that you do, but that's another article altogether), why don't we treat the concept of getting healthy the way that getting healthy actually works? There is nothing that anyone is going to do or say that's going to make fat people skinny tomorrow. Sorry. There is no magic commercial that's going to shame people into becoming thin overnight--just like there's no housewife who discovered one weird trick to burning off belly fat. It's just not going to happen. The real problem is much bigger, much harder to solve, and much less fun for people who get off on hating fat people.
The truth is that we live in a country where the system of food production is colossally fucked. There is a systematic campaign to trick people into eating garbage because garbage is cheap to produce. There are whole communities who either can't afford or physically can't access fresh, healthy ingredients. The "obesity epidemic" is not a "fat kids love Cheetos epidemic." No fat people are up in arms when you criticize Kellogg's for claiming that Frosted Flakes are "part of a nutritious breakfast." No fat people get defensive when you make fun of that LUDICROUS Nutella commercial where the mom says she feeds her kids candy-spread for breakfast because it's "wholesome nuts with a hint of cocoa" or whatever. Because those things? They are what's known as ACTUAL PROBLEMS.
But despite the backlash, Manley told NPR he stands by the ads.
"Just because people like an ad doesn't mean it moves them to action," he said, speaking of the more warm-and-fuzzy feelings that accompany ads featuring positive reinforcement.
The goal, he said, is "to trigger some thinking and dialogue about this very serious health problem."
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