Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, a pediatric hospital, is spending $25million on some pretty brutal commercials depicting fat children and suggesting that parents are in denial about the problem.

The adverts attempt to use the same shock-value tactics as those for smoking and alcohol. And like those adverts, they are likely to be pretty unsuccessful. For starters, the rules of the game are to overstate the problem. So this article suggests there are one million Georgia kids overweight or obese. That’s a pretty cynical way of eliding the majority of those children - overweight=slightly chubby - with kids who are actually chubby - or obese - and a much, much smaller number who have serious weight problems, type 2 diabetes and so on. Those kids, and their parents, would love to have a solution so that they can play normally and don’t get bullied about their weight.

There is an assumption in these campaigns that weight problems are caused by eating too much or exercising too little. But most children would be simply incapable of getting fat. So the starting point for understanding weight gain is surely genetic and hormonal. There is, in my reading, decent evidence that those factors interact with the large amounts of carbohydrate people often eat today to cause children (and adults) to get very fat.

What are needed are solutions for the minority who really pile on the pounds and not scare tactics directed at the majority that will create anxiety and a population full of miserable parents and children. Give parents methods of getting their kids’ weight under control that actually work and most will go for it. What concerns me is that these methods often fail, parents get blamed and the upshot is to demand more draconian forms of intervention for the ‘sake of the kids’.

Controversy Swirls Around Harsh Anti-Obesity Ads, NPR