Controversial Obesity Ads: Is It The Wrong Message?

The other day, I came across a controversial anti-obesity campaign that targets Georgian families – where some 40% of children are either overweight or obese. With a million advertising budget, commercials and billboards featuring overweight kids are being run across the state. The campaign features tag lines like “it’s hard to be a little girl when you’re not.”

It begs the question: Is the campaign effective? Or does it send the wrong message?

On one hand, the campaign is getting a lot of media attention and publicity. Almost all of the major news outlets have run stories about the controversial campaign. People are talking – and the obesity epidemic is getting a bigger share of the spotlight.

But on the other hand, I don’t think you can inspire lasting lifestyle changes through shame. If you don’t feel good about your body – or your relationship with your body is badly damaged – it’s much harder to make decisions that honor it like exercise and nutrition. Lasting lifestyle transformations occur through a stronger, more loving relationship with our body – and that’s not something that this campaign helps to inspire.

Some might even argue that by infusing children with even more shame and insecurities, this campaign does more harm than good. Rather than motivate children and parents to change their habits, even more people may turn to food as a way to cope with the guilt and pain.

Ultimately, time will tell if this $25 million campaign is money well spent – and if it does, in fact, make a significant dent in Georgia’s obesity problem.

In the meantime, what do you think? Does this campaign go too far? Or do you think it’s what people need to hear? Let me know in the comments below.

About Davey Wavey

Davey Wavey is a certified personal trainer and YouTube sensation with more than 250 million video views. For Davey's fitness tips and secrets, sign up for his free monthly newsletter - or download any of his affordable and effective workout programs.


  1. I agree, I don’t know if making any one try to change their lifestyle out of shame and insecurity is truly an effective method, much less a child. It’s hard to be a kid, and there’s enough out there making them feel insecure and paranoid about themselves. There has to be a better way to promote a healthier lifestyle.

  2. As a chub myself, I can most definitely say that I have lost weight only through self respect and being ‘ok’ with me… shame only caused more weight gain when I was in school and at my heaviest point.

  3. For me, it was definitely hard growing up as the biggest kid in class. I know where the thought process behind this comes from. Also, the methods you promote probably do not work on children. Maybe they have tried that route many times(food pyramid, healthier choices in the cafeteria) to no avail. I personally don’t have a problem with this ad.

  4. I think the ad is terrible. I was a very fat child and everyone- from teachers to doctors to other kids to random adults- treated me like it was my fault, like I had done something horrible. I hated myself and I hated my life and I carried much of that hatred and shame into adulthood. And it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault that my mother never cooked. It wasn’t my fault that she took me to McDonald’s multiple times a week. It wasn’t my fault that we ate nothing- literally nothing- but takeout, fast food, and processed frozen dinners. It wasn’t my fault that we never had vegetables. By the time I got out on my own and actually could do something to take charge of how I eat, it was extremely difficult, and I am still bogged down with layers of garbage I got from growing up. I agree that something needs to be done about obesity, but ads that make people feel even worse about themselves are going to add to the problem, not fix it.

  5. I think this add is going too far. I commend Georgia for wanting to tackle the child obesity issue but this is not the way to go. I agree that we shouldn’t make people, especially kids, feel bad about themselves. I think they should have done an add that was more positive and motivating.

  6. I have all sorts of mixed feelings.

    First, I absolutely appreciate a cut body. Hell, who doesn’t look at Davey Wayvey and wish they could look like that.

    But I ain’t there. I’m 55 and probably a good 20 pounds over where I should be.

    I feel no real shame and have no ‘body conscious’ issues. I can take my shirt off at Pride and feel comfortable.

    I go to work, then most evenings I have some ‘arts’ function. I go to the theater, the opera, the symphony, a chorus concert, a charity event…

    If I went to the gym after work I would feel miserable because of what I was missing out on that evening. If I went early in the morning, I’d probably be too tired to go to whatever the evening’s event is.

    You make your choices…

  7. something needs to be done about the obesity dilema. kids are just too big.
    not sure what can be done though

  8. I can tell you right away that it is sending the wrong message, probably with the best intentions, but definitely the wrong message. I am a publicist and I have an emphasis on the semiotics of aesthetics and publicity message.

    Analyzing this ad, I can tell you the following:
    1. The girl’s face seems preocupied and a bit ashamed, along with that the crossed arms around the stomach makes it look like she’s trying to hide herself from the world, giving a picture of low self-esteem and awkwardness about herself, she definitely isn’t a happy child, or even close to being confortable with herself.

    2. The red print is really dramatic, and it being in the word “warning” is depicting something really bad and dangerous. Of course obesity is a dangerous situation to be in because of health related issues, but it’s a very strong negative message for kids. It’s like their doing something wrong. Remember that warnings are always pasted in things you shouldn’t eat or touch.

    3. “It’s hard to be a little girl, when you’re not” They’re calling the girl big, but with more words, trying not to sound too mean. But it still delivers the message, it’s like, you’re big, it’s hard being big, so just STOP IT!. Now, I understand that they need obesse kids to stop being obesse but they’re not giving them an option or suggestions on how to do this.

    Conclusion: This ad definitely gives a negative message. It’s telling you to feel bad and feel ashamed for being overweight and that you simply need to stop. it’s not giving you a way, or showing the benefits of being healthier, in fact is not telling you to be healthy; it’s telling you to be little. It’s a size thing not a health thing as it should be (in my perspective) the case of weight watch ads and campaigns.

    So these are my two cents. Remember this is just my opinion and you can differ from it. you may not agree with it and that’s ok.

  9. Having a campaign that targets children in a negative way does not empower them, but adds more shame and insecurity issues. I work at a health club and you can not motivate someone to make healthy changes that are long lasting unless they truly want it, making them ashamed is not that way. They really should have taken that $25 million and given it to the education system with the stipulation that it was to be used for healthy eating and exercise, not on a marketing campaign like that.

  10. Stop over thinking! HEALTH! It’s health the main subject!!! How can you say “This girl/boy is big but she’s beautiful inside and out no matter what you say”. Idiots. Tell that again when the girl/boy start having diseases and probably dead before their parents. OBESITY is a problem. Stop making things so complicated!

    • Ismeth, why so angry? Everyone agrees that obesity is a problem in today’s world. First, people who see beauty in everyone regardless of outward appearance are NOT idiots. Name-calling is rude and pointless. Also, the question is not health. It’s how to ADDRESS the issue of health when it’s something targeted at children who are probably ridiculed daily for their weight. The question is how things should be phrased. No one’s arguing that obesity isn’t a problem.

      Side note: I believe that everyone IS beautiful on the inside, regardless of weight. How does that make me an idiot?

  11. The information we don’t have is where and when this ad is being run – in other words, who is it really targeted at? Obese children, or their parents? If this is being run at times and places where it is hitting adults I’m all for it. Kids are not responsible for their weight, their caregivers are, either through teaching poor eating habits, lazy cooking practices at home, over-reliance on fast food, or good old role modelling.

  12. I TOTALLY agree with you Davey Wavey, the obesity issue is because people have been raised to go for instant gratification in regards to food much like everything else, and not learning to let a body get hungry (which is healthy by the way, not starved, which again is yet another extreme).

    There’s a missing enjoyment factor when someone who is hungry gets the food they need to rebuild their muscles after a workout for example, and that satisfaction is very much an enjoyable event.

    Food advertising is WAY TOO FREQUENT, and in WAY TO MANY PLACES!


  13. What about all the bulling material this campaign is thowing away. This campaign can easily be taken as a personal attack towards obese children and people and encouragement to people to do so.

  14. Ashley Harple says:

    I think that making awareness is a good idea but I agree with Davey here.shame is not the way to get results. It will only promote bullying and more children resulting in eating disorders and even suicide. If you think that’s not real and that it doesn’t happen I’m here to tell you it does. We lost a really good friend when I was in ninth grade bc she was bullied so bad for her weight. it should be positive not hurtful. If anything the parents should be ashamed for putting their children in
    this position and not doing anything about it.

  15. I think most of you are reading way too far into it. Nowhere in this ad does it say that fat kids should be ashamed of themselves. It is saying that kids have a hard time being little when they have issues like being obese, or even bullying from being obese to worry about. I can see this ad, and imagine some of the kids I went to school with, I’m sure they felt the same way. And thats not condemning anyone to a life of shame. It’s saying that we need to help these kids before they lose their childhood to such issues. If people would stop getting so offended, it could actually help. We as adults/parents should be doing more to keep our kids healthy. Being bullied for being overweight will do a lot more damage than any billboard will, especially one that obviously cares about our kids weight. Take it at face value, teach your kids how to eat healthy, cook healthy meals, and then maybe things like this wouldn’t have to be used to force parents to take notice.

  16. Honestly I think this is more aimed at parents to intervene than anything else.

    At the age of eight, do you think you really had much of a say in this kind of thing?

  17. I know what it means to grow up obese, which is why I elected to have Lap-Band Weight Loss Surgery. I went through with it to help with my Hypothyroidism, but mainly to be thinner. This worked at first, but then I gained some. I now love myself, which has helped me to lose some weight and to continue losing weight.

  18. honestly im more alarmed by the ads i see on tv aimed specifically at the obese with “ppo medical insurance” advocating that the only true way to a fit lifestyle is thru invasive abdominal surgery.. greedy some-bitches.. even carly wilson gained it all back eventually… fail!

  19. When I read these ads I don’t hear shame I hear the internal emotional dialog that this little girl has with herself. I see the ads as trying to get people to understand what is going on inside their minds and the subliminal message to children and adults who are obese is that there are people who do care about you. I think the idea behind the ads is to get people involved. I think this is a good ad in that it gets the conversation going, but all that is going on is just talk and no action.

  20. My opinion is that the idea behind these obesity ads is simply misleading. Such a campaign only proves that some people don’t realize that obesity is not the child’s fault but the result of their parents’ inability to give them the care they need. Today’s parents are so busy that they rarely find time to be with their children. They all too often neglect the fact that children need to interact and cooperate with others in order to develop healthy relationships later in life. The natural result then can really be the child’s inability to manage stress which may finally lead to problems such as obesity or other diseases. That’s why I always tried to find some new activities to encourage the natural development of my chiIdren and visited as many baby-centers in Toronto as possible when my children were born. I discovered a number of funny ways to build a strong relationship and I always try to spend as much of my free time as possible with them to avoid similar problems in their adolescence. But this can’t be solved by any kind of advertisement and it only says something about society as well as about the parents themselves.

  21. christopher says:

    i think this anti-obesity campaign is over the top.but only in its approach.sensible and carefully should be a healthy lifestyle encompasses every aspect of life-diet exercise all around activity and proper rest need to be addressed.shaming the target subject is the wrong thing this campaign has done is the problem.this controversy no doubt continue.when fast food continues to be cheap alternative to the slow method healthy approach then thats a at Whole Foods for instance is all well and good-not everyone can afford it.we need to demand the food industry do better.thats a start.

  22. I can tell you that when I was a child, I was teased by the kids in school and even had one teacher that made a point of how fat I was. Even at home I was fed diet pills from my Mother at age 9, so shame does not work. I am so damaged, that I could never make friends with food and fight to maintain my weight every hour of every day sometimes I’m not successful, sometime it works great.

  23. I can only speak for myself here. But being ashamed of my body only made me feel worse about myself, gain more weight, feel bad about gaining weight, then becoming bulimic.

  24. Ashleigh Anne says:

    I feel like this is somethig that could inspire eating disorders to a point. They cause low self esteem and I know that’s where mine came from.

  25. Roger Ricksham says:

    I believe the ads are aimed more at the parents than the children. You are not telling the children anything that they do not know, but parents need to be aware of what their children are going through.