To fight obesity in kids, a video that shocks without hurting

A scene from a video that has been released to help combat child obesity in Georgia.

Last month I published two posts about the controversial Strong4Life anti-obesity campaign launched by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Pediatric Hospital.

The tough love approach of that campaign (you can watch the videos here) received blistering criticism from public health experts (including us) and parent activists who were concerned that obese children will be stigmatized by the campaign.

And Stop the Cycle, a new video released Thursday, is proving that you can, indeed, make a powerful message without trampling on the feelings of the intended audience:

A man is wheeled into the emergency room.  His breathing is labored. Oxygen is started. The doctor  leans in as an assistant describes the case: “Heart attack, 5-9, 300 pounds, 32 years old . . . ”  

“How the hell does that happen?” the doctor asks as he begins work – and as the video answers by taking us on a series of flashbacks through a quite familiar life of sweets, TV, fast food, vending machines, all the way back to a mother’s attempts to pacify her screaming infant son with French fries.

It’s a pretty powerful video. It calls attention to the complex physical, emotional, and familial roots and costs of obesity, and does so without, I think, stigmatizing the individual with the condition.

It also is a remarkable coincidence. My previous posts had called attention to some of the challenges of health promotion and behavior change campaigns and their unintended consequences and moral pitfalls, particularly for campaigns that seek change through guilt and stigma.

I had outlined a proposed script – an alternative approach for the Strong4Life campaign to consider. “Instead of calling attention to fat kids,” I wrote, “call attention to the health effects of obesity that started in childhood.”

Here was my non-expert stab at an alternative ad:

Fade in: An obese 40-year-old man is lying in a hospital bed, tubes in his arms and nose. His family is gathered around him. The camera pans across his near-lifeless body to a beeping heart monitor. As the image fades to black, the blinking heartbeat line flattens. A photo-montage reveals images of the man throughout his life, first as an obese youngster, then as an obese adult.

Voice-over: When obesity starts in childhood, it can end at 40. Stop sugarcoating it, Georgia.

The Strong4Life Campaign told me that it coincidentally had been developing something very much in the spirit I proposed, the just-released video.

So kudos to our friends at the Strong4Life campaign for a powerful ad!

Apparently, I should have gone into advertising.

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