Obesity ad health fear

By Sam Landy, Herald Sun, September 20, 2014

Experts slam fat 'shame' message

EATING disorder and body image experts have slammed Victoria's new government funded “toxic fat” anti-obesity campaign for “fat shaming”, saying it will cause more harm than good. Children and sufferers of eating disorders were at particular risk of becoming “collateral damage” to the LiveLighter public health campaign, positive body image advocates said, as both were vulnerable to its flawed message that “fat is bad”.

The campaign was also likely to make its target audience - overweight Victorians feel worse about their bodies, driving them to further unhealthy habits such as dieting rather than safely shedding kilos, experts said. The campaign - a joint initiative by Cancer Council Victoria, the Heart Foundation and State Government launched in Victoria last month - comprises graphic TV, newspaper and online ads that go underneath the “grabbable gut” of an overweight person to show the “toxic” visceral fat inside.

It has been marketed as a “hard-hitting” education campaign designed to “inform, encourage change and trigger fresh debate about obesity”. But Melbourne weight management specialist Rick Kausman said while LiveLighter could raise awareness about the dangers of obesity, research had shown shaming people for poor health was often ineffective at helping them become healthier. Dr Kausman said he had strongly advised Health Minister David Davis against adopting the campaign during a meeting with him last year.

He said its message that “fat is bad” could spark poor health habits in children that could stick with them for life. BodyMatters Australasia psychologist Sarah McMahon said the graphic advertisements could exacerbate the fear of gaining weight held by eating disorder sufferers, hindering any chance of recovery. Butterfly Foundation chief executive Christine Morgan said the ads could even trigger eating disorders by portraying fat as something to be “ashamed of”. But Mr Davis said the campaign had previously been tested in Western Australia to ensure it would not have “any unintended consequences”. “The campaign had the highest impact among key target groups overweight and obese people aged 25-49,” Mr Davis said.

 

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