I feel like a description of myself is in order to put this article into perspective. I am a short woman at a height of five feet and two and a half inches (about 1.6 meters). My weight is steady at 115 pounds (about 52 kilograms), give or take a few here or there on any given day. I wasn’t always this size, but I never had a real weight problem. Within the past few years, I became passionate about my health as something I should participate in. So many of us just let health happen, but I wanted to increase my chances of a long, healthy life. I tend to eat quite healthy, but have been struggling to keep a regular gym regimen. That is who I am speaking to you today.
I am concerned about the obesity epidemic in America. Part of the reason why I am so concerned about my health is that I want to avoid obesity and the problems that come with it. This epidemic has sparked two opposing arguments, both which I find dangerously harmful to all people struggling with weight.
By now, many of you have probably heard of the Strong4Life ad campaign in Georgia. These ads come in the form of billboards, posters and T.V. advertisements. They feature overweight children with slogans such as “It’s hard being a little girl if you’re not” and “My fat may be funny to you but it’s killing me.”
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Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is the pediatric hospital running the campaign. Their president said in an article from NPR that the ads had to be harsh to get people to listen. The ads aim to work the same way anti-smoking and anti-drug ad do – shock the audience to make them pay attention.
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I think it’s important to take a step back before you immediately criticize this campaign. The United States faces an obesity epidemic and has little, if any, idea of how to stop it. In Georgia, 40 percent of children are either obese or overweight. What these ads say about the supporters and creators of the campaign is that they are all at a loss. The solution is relatively simple, eat healthier and exercise, but how do you get people to actually take control of their health?
That being said, I think these ads are horrid. I don’t think they were meant to shock children, they were meant for adults. In the process of trying to shock adults, these ads undoubtedly hurt children. I remember my years in grade school where I had very low self-esteem. I thought I was fat, ugly and alone. Regardless of whether or not I was actually fat, I would have seen those ads and assumed they were speaking to me. Bullies would exchange harsh vulgarities and replace them with words like fat and obese. No, these ads are not the way to go. Condemning people who are fat as stupid or immoral will not solve the obesity epidemic. If anything, it will increase it, as depression and weight gain are often connected.
There is another movement rising out of concern for the obesity epidemic which offers a more optimistic, but potentially harmful, solution. There is this idea of body acceptance no matter what your size. That is fine, in fact, that is preferable so long as people are healthy. The obesity epidemic is not a sudden rise in ugly people; it is a sudden rise of a serious, preventable and often fatal condition. Body acceptance is not the same as being healthy.
I’ll provide you with a small example from my own life. Here I am a beautiful young woman of healthy weight for my height. I am by no means perfect. I know that I have to stay active and eat well to have true health. Someone who is of healthy weight but only eats candy all day is not really healthy at all. With this in mind, I always look at everything listed on the nutritional label of everything I buy. Calories are not everything. I’ve sought out websites and magazines that will help me stay on top of the latest health news so I am always informed. I can’t go shopping with my roommate anymore. She assumes I must have an eating disorder because I am so concerned about what I eat. When I tell her I am going to the gym she holds her head high and tells me she is happy being soft, implying I should be happy that way too.
The I Stand campaign is a response to Georgia’s Strong4Life campaign. This one features slogans such as “I stand for learning to love your body for what it is and not fighting it for what it is not.” Another proclaims confidently “I stand for never letting your size keep you from following your dreams.”
I agree with all these slogans and I don’t want anyone to feel ashamed for what they look like. What I fear is that some may interpret these ads as saying it’s okay to be unhealthy. It is not okay to be unhealthy or to teach children unhealthy habits that will follow them into adulthood. The physical, emotional and financial burden of obesity is not okay.
There are some ads with the I Stand campaign which I believe are better than others. They ask for frank and honest discussions about what it means to be healthy and how to live a healthy lifestyle. The shape a healthy person’s body takes does not matter, so long as they are healthy.
This is something no one wants to hear. There is not a quick fix. There is not a pill that will magically make you a healthy human being. We have to wake up, pay attention to where are food is coming from and how much we are eating. No matter what your age or size, you have to move around every day, even if it is just a 30 minute walk. Of course, the most important fact society does not want to hear is that the size and shape of any body is not a good or complete indicator of someone’s health.
Author Bio: Tonya Vrba is a passionate writer. Her work has been published in newspapers and blogs. She writes frequently about health, career and dating issues. Tonya currently writes with Dating Sites Online. Learn more about her work at her personal website