Anti-Obesity Ads Walk Thin Line With Fat Kids

A new anti-obesity initiative from Georgia is drawing cries of "fat shaming" from critics for using overweight children in Web clips and on billboards. The folks behind the ads counter that kids respect honesty and want to hear real stories from their peers. Both sides have a point, but the whole approach just feels wrong to me. Photographing the kids in stark, monochrome close-ups and having them speak directly to the camera creates surreal, hyper-intense vignettes that play like therapy-session footage. Or confessions. It seems invasive to watch Bobby smile and say, "I love donuts, especially when the Hot Donuts sign's lit up. My favorite is glazed." He drones on hungrily about hiding snacks under the bed, though his wide-eyed enthusiasm wanes as he pouts while concluding, "Vegetables stink. I don't like how they look or how they taste." Some stats flash at the end, but they seem disconnected with what's come before—almost like an apology. In other spots, other youngsters discuss the effects of diabetes, being bullied after school and the heartache of loneliness. The technique is better suited to anti-drug PSAs starring adults. With kids, it's just creepy, and suggests a degree of manipulation. (Even if they're willing participants, it's in the service of what the ad makers want them to say.) They have no real reason to be ashamed, but I feel that way for watching. Ultimately, the effort strives too hard to be artistic and emotionally "weighty." The same concept handled with a "lighter" touch—a dash of humor, a splash of color, some flash of hope—might have appeared less voyeuristic and tipped the scales in the campaign's favor.