Controversial Anti-obesity Ads Aim to Reduce Childhood Obesity

Reading time: 3 – 4 minutes

A new series of billboard and television ads is outraging Georgians, who object to the “Stop Sugarcoating It, Georgia” campaign being run by the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta pediatric hospital. The ads depict overweight and obese children in a variety of settings, and are meant to shock parents into action.

Stop childhood obesity

The campaign, launched in August 2011, features provocative television and outdoor advertisements around metro Atlanta seeking to raise public awareness of the childhood obesity crisis [1]. The hospital justifies the harsh nature of the ads by citing the many serious health issues associated with childhood obesity. These include heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Linda Matzigkeit, a senior vice president at Children’s Healthcare who leads the system’s wellness projects, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the campaign’s harsh tone was necessary [2]:

We felt like we needed a very arresting, abrupt campaign that said: “Hey, Georgia! Wake up. This is a problem.”

The obesity epidemic in the United States isn’t limited to Georgia — or to children — but it’s more severe in the South than in other parts of the country. Further, while Americans are becoming fatter across age brackets, obesity in children is particularly problematic because it sets children up for a lifetime of health problems. According to the CDC, childhood obesity rates have been skyrocketing over the past two decades. In 1996, just over 20% of public school children in sixth grade were overweight. By 2003, this number had risen to 43%, half of whom were obese [3]. The report goes on to state that in the last five years, obesity rates have actually fallen a bit among school children, but that this trend is strongly associated with income and race. Minority children and those from poorest families have experienced the smallest drop in obesity.

Opponents of the Georgia ad campaign object to the ad’s negativity, claiming that they could impact the already low self-esteem of an overweight or obese child. However, proponents of the ads counter with the logic that a blow to the self-esteem is minor compared to the significant health consequences of childhood obesity. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta explains that their targeted research shows children don’t see the ads as “bullying,” and want to be talked to directly about the problem.


  1. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Launches Provocative Awareness Campaign to Combat Childhood Obesity. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. 2011 Aug 23.
  2. Grim childhood obesity ads stir critics. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 2012 Jan 1.
  3. CDC. Obesity in K–8 Students — New York City, 2006–07 to 2010–11 School Years. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2011 Dec 16;60:1673-8.
    View abstract
About the Author

Kirstin Hendrickson, Ph.D., is a science journalist and faculty in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Arizona State University. She has a PhD in Chemistry, and studied mechanisms of damage to DNA during her graduate career. Kirstin also holds degrees in Zoology and Psychology. Currently, both in her teaching and in her writing, she’s interested in methods of communicating about science, and in the reciprocal relationship between science and society. She has written a textbook called Chemistry In The World, which focuses on the ways in which chemistry affects everyday life, and the ways in which humans affect each other and the environment through chemistry.