WATCH: will this ad stop obesity or start eating disorders?

One in four Australians are obese. And obesity now kills almost as many people as smoking tobacco does. Graphic anti-smoking advertisements are now an accepted part of watching the TV each night. Do you think this new anti-obesity ad is any different?

Take a look:

The ads – produced by the West Australian Government and created by the Heart Foundation and the Cancer Council – are certainly graphic.

But is that a good thing? There’s been backlash against the ads this week, with some people saying they could contribute to increasing rates of eating disorders – especially for teenagers.

The leader of the campaign against the ads is Lydia Jane Turner, who works with people who have eating disorders. She says the ads are “employing scare tactics” to shame viewers into wanting thinner physiques, which could lead to people engaging in harmful weight loss behaviours.

Lydia Jane Turner started a petition on calling for the ads to be removed. She writes:

Unlike tobacco and drink-driving, food is not a substance people can abstain from. Health and weight issues are highly complex and body disatissfaction is one of the biggest predictors of eating disorders and dysfunctional eating patterns. Scaring and shaming people about their bodies is not the answer.

With a largely unregulated weight loss industry, many become desperate to escape fat stigma by engaging in weight loss behaviours that are harmful to health. Unlike tobacco and drink-driving campaigns, the focus of this anti-obesity campaign is on appearance instead of behaviours. This is dangerous.

Not only are eating disorders appearing at younger and younger ages, but according to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC), eating disorders have increased two-fold in Australia over the past 5 years. While this ad may be aimed at adults, it is naive to think school children will not be negatively impacted by this.

Professor Amanda Sainsbury-Salis from Sydney University who is an expert on obesity and eating disorders, disagrees.

She says the ads are just “telling the truth” and will play a role in curbing obesity.

This from the ABC:

“In fact the ads depict very sensible, healthy lifestyle options for anyone of any age and any body weight,” Professor Sainsbury-Salis told ABC News Breakfast.

“This includes, for example, don’t stand in front of the fridge eating pizza. Another message in the ads is if you can walk to the shops, do so, instead of driving. Another message is don’t pick up two big bags of chips in the supermarket and buy them because they’re two for the price of one.

“So there’s nothing in the ads in terms of weight management behaviour that would promote or which is known to promote or which is known to promote eating disorders…”

But she says the ads will play a valuable role in curbing obesity.



Are the shock tactics used in these advertisements justified? Do you think they have the potential to cause eating disorders?