“Shame and Blame: Facing the Unintended Consequences of Health Messaging” on Huffpost

Today my op-ed on shame and blame in health campaigns was published on the Huffington Post. Check it out!

Shame and Blame: Facing the Unintended Consequences of Health Messaging

A solemn black and white poster shows a picture of an obese girl with copy that reads: “Warning: It’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not.” Another poster displays a woman’s naked legs with her panties around her ankles and the word: “She didn’t want to do it, but she couldn’t say no.” The first is part of the Georgia “Strong 4 Life” campaign to prevent childhood obesity; the other is part of the Pennsylvania “Control Tonight” campaign to reduce excessive alcohol consumption. Though the campaigns are unrelated, they have one thing in common: disregard for the effects of shame and blame — the frequent unintended consequences of health campaigns.

The promotion of health and social welfare is one of those noble causes that attracts people who want to “do good.” Physicians are taught to “First, do no harm,” but health communication professionals take for granted that their work is “doing good” without considering that it might cause unintentional harm. For example, stigmatizing sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention messages may make people with STIs too embarrassed to seek treatment or too ashamed to tell their sexual partners. Not only can health promotion messages lead to such negative health outcomes, they can also promote destructive social values, like fat stigma and rape culture.

Read the rest at the Huffington Post.

Quick hit: Shaming fat kids doesn’t solve anything

Strong 4 Life campaign

According to the Georgia Strong 4 Life childhood obesity campaign website, “Ignoring this problem is what got us here.”

It’s true that childhood obesity is a big problem, but you know what DIDN’T cause the childhood obesity epidemic?

Ignoring the problem.

You know what did?

  • Income disparity
  • Food deserts
  • Fast food advertising
  • The whole fast food industry
  • Corn subsidies
  • Policies like the one declaring that pizza counts as a vegetable in school lunches
  • Lack of safe outdoor play space for inner city kids
  • Video games
  • Lack of funding for physical education
  • Poverty

You know what this ad does?

  • Help families alleviate/prevent childhood obesity
  • Blame this kid for being a fatty fat.

Know what blaming kids for being fat does?

  • Makes them lose weight
  • Encourages a culture of fat stigma and fat shaming that fuels bullying
  • Increases negative psychological, emotional, and health outcomes among overweight and obese children, such as low self-esteem, body image disturbance, eating disorders, and even suicide.

Way to go, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.