Thursday, November 08, 2007

War on Obesity

Joining the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, and the War on Immigration...the War on Obesity.

The War on Obesity infiltrated my workplace when I clicked on a newscast ("Dolphins rescue surfer from shark") and found myself confronted with a television ad. It showed children playing outside with music bumping in the background.

Ya bes get up, get up and be a playa! get up! get up! get up!

It ended with a group of kids monotonically chanting into a microphone, "Get up and play, an hour a day."

Normally, I would ignore the ad and go about my asinine newscast watching. However, public health and the war on epidemics are two interests of mine and since I have written about them here and here, my investigative senses were tingling. Intrigued, I followed the link to, a website devoted to a new national "Be A Player" Campaign. Here's a quote from the Department of Health and Human Services press release (source):

The "Be a Player" multimedia ad campaign, which encourages children to "get up and play an hour a day," is an extension of HHS' Obesity Prevention campaign that launched in 2004 and the Ad Council's Coalition for Healthy Children initiative. The campaign message is also an important part of the NFL's "Play 60" youth health and fitness initiative, a multi-year campaign, which launches today to encourage youth to achieve 60 minutes of activity a day. The PSAs are available in both English and Spanish and were created by the NFL and Curious Pictures, while DCODE produced the print and radio assets.

I think it's fascinating this is part of the Bush Administration's "Healthy Children Initiative." It epitomizes the irrational logic of a majority of the President's policies. To illustrate what I mean by irrational logic, I would like to show Jon Stewart's take on the President's veto of SCHIP.

President George W. Bush: My job is a decision making job and, as a result, I make a lot of decisions. [...] I want to share with you why I vetoed the [SCHIP] bill this morning. Poor kids first. Secondly--

Jon Stewart: Wait a minute! That's your whole first point? "Poor kids"?!? [...] Throw me a verb! Give me a modifier! [...] Give me something!

The faulty logic behind the SCHIP veto (and the delirious defense of private insurance companies) trails into the "Be A Player" campaign.

Below are three ads produced by the Ad Council in conjunction with Health and Human Services. We'll take them on one by one and see how the "anti-fat" campaign, by being a strictly negative approach, reinforces unhealthy body imagery along with societal stereotypes.

I am a Poster

"Daddy Ooh"

Along with the Ad Council and Health and Human Services, the National Football League also contributes material to the campaign. While I was trying to figure out exactly what the NFL contributes to this campaign, I surfed the site listed RUSH NFL. There was very little to do with obesity and a few videos about inactivity.

I'm just not sure what a child is supposed to understand from coming to an NFL site to learn about nutrition, fitness and health body image. Professional football has recently had serious issues with drug use, late hits and off-field violence.

The ad "Daddy Ooh" reinforces this point. The weight loss transition reads:

Starts shooting hoops with son. Eats healthier and skips dessert. Considering changing name to Buff Daddy.

The main goal for losing weight is not for personal health, but rather so a man can live up to societal expectations of "being a man".

"Obesity Bikini"

"Obesity Bikini" takes a similar approach to women. The transition here reads:

Started going for short walks during lunch hour. Stops ordering take out and starts cooking health meals. Just bought that bikini that challenges obscenity laws.

To me, this seems as though the carrot in this carrot-and-stick approach is to be able to fit into a banging bikini so you can look great for your friends and anyone else who happens to be around. Sure, feeling sexy can improve your overall well-being, but I don't think that's the route this message is taking. Instead, "sexy" is defined by a line on the woman's torso. "Sexy" than is a size 25 (cut me some slack, I had to read a diagram to figure out the sizes).

The issue with defining "sexy" as a waist size is that it could, and very often does, lead to eating disorders.

"Soccer Mom"

The voting bloc now has it's own demographic category.

Started pacing the sidelines while kids played soccer. Soon was walking with kids every night after dinner. Fights urge to run onto soccer field and play forward.

Anxiety apparently fuels soccer moms. If we could attach a psychological term to each of the sentences:

Started pacing the sidelines while kids played soccer--Anxiety --Soon was walking with kids every night after dinner--Obsession --Fights urge to run onto soccer field and play forward--Repression

What kills me is the last line. The idea of fighting an urge makes it seem as though soccer moms could be assertive, but it's just not appropriate maternal behavior.

There are many other interesting PR ads. If you're interested, you can check them out here. Otherwise, on a final note, let's give a hearty congratulations to the overweight because it seems (at least according to the Journal of the American Medical Association) overweight people actually have lower death rates.

This is probably a good absurdist note to end on.

1 comment:

trozz said...

The Concept is great....

60 minutes (or more) of play--good old-fashioned unstructured running around, getting sweaty and out of breath--a day.


Those posters??? Bravo for illustrating the absurd!