In an unprecedented move, the National Institutes of Health has issued a public condemnation of Strong4Life’s ad campaign:
Thank you for writing to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concerning the Strong4Life campaign that targets overweight children in an effort to curb childhood obesity…
I agree with you that this campaign carries a great risk of increasing stigma for those children who are overweight or obese which, in turn, can reinforce unhealthy behaviors (e.g., overeating). A number of research studies over the last decade have supported this concern. For example, studies suggest that overweight children who are teased about their appearance are more likely to binge eat or use unhealthy weight-control practices, and weight-based victimization has been correlated with lower levels of physical activity. Not surprisingly, stigmatization of obese individuals, particularly adolescents, poses risks to their psychological health.
Other studies show that the perception that obesity is solely a matter of personal responsibility, as opposed to understanding the complexity of contributing factors, can increase negative stereotypes of overweight people. It is important, therefore, that public messages about obesity address this complexity whenever possible.
This is an enormous victory. Thank you all for contributing to the fight against fat shame and stigma!