Controversy Over Making Toddler Look Fat for Anti-Obesity Campaign Is Silly

First 5 California childhood obesity adAnother ad campaign against childhood obesity has landed the creators in hot water. This time the folks at First 5 California have taken an image of a child model drinking milk and enhanced it to make the child appear overweight. The milk, of course, has been traded out for a big cup labeled "sugar."

Seeing the problem here? Me neither.


It's not that I'm a huge fan of Photoshopping kids, folks. I just blew up a photo of my daughter with dirt on her cheeks, and I very purposely left it there because that's what she really looked like after digging around in our garden.

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But taking a thin child model and adding weight to her face to represent child obesity is far better than taking a photo of a chubby child and using her (or him) to do the same. The latter is dangerous fat-shaming. Even a child who is in the modeling business, who should be better armed for the likelihood of their photos being used in a variety of mediums, can bear some pretty deep emotional scars from that treatment. Chunky kids have a hard enough time without having their bodies being criticized on billboards and in magazines.

Those kids need help developing a healthier lifestyle, not someone making them feel more unhappy with who they are.

What's been done with the ads from First 5, on the other hand, that's something you can explain to a child model pretty easily. You can tell a child you know that doesn't look like them, and then explain why the image was changed.

And why it was changed is important here. Child obesity IS a problem.

It's not cute. It's not something we should teach our kids to accept. Teaching kids to love their bodies does not mean teaching them it's OK to be unhealthy.

One of the ad's chief critics is Marilyan Wann, a proponent of the body acceptance movement who calls the digital manipulation of the image "creepy."

I might be inclined to agree with her if it wasn't so obvious that the image had been adjusted. There's a clear correlation being made here between unhealthy foods (sugary drinks) and obesity. There's a clear link being made between healthy eats (milk) and a healthy kid. 

And when you consider the CDC estimates childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years, those correlations need to be made. Parents need to have in-your-face, visceral warnings that if they don't start their kids off eating right in the toddler years, they are setting them up for a lifetime of being unhealthy.

Do you feel the images go too far or just far enough?


Image via First 5 California

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