This morning the WA state government, Heart Foundation and Cancer Council released an anti-obesity campaign employing scare tactics in a bid to fearmonger viewers into adopting a thinner physique.
Using graphic images the advertisement labelling visceral fat "toxic" will be broadcast everyday across a range of mediums.
We, the undersigned, believe this campaign to be both irresponsible and harmful. We call for the WA State Government, Heart Foundation, and Cancer Council to cancel this advertisement immediately.
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.
Existing research shows that shaming people about their body size does not lead to health-giving behaviours. These kinds of campaigns only exacerbate the existing stigma and bullying based on body size, which is harmful to everyone.
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 (http://www.nedc.com.au/for-the-media ). While this ad may be aimed at adults, it is naive to think school children will not be negatively impacted by this.
In fact, a pioneering research paper published in the Oxford Journal of Medicine 2004 reports "...health education messages about overweight and weight control are likely to make young people feel worse about their bodies and themselves in general."
Anti-obesity campaigns like this one are likely to contribute to increasing rates of eating and dieting disorders. Eating disorders sufferers should not be the necessary casualties in the crusade against obesity.
Research shows that fitness is a far better predictor of health than weight, and people of all sizes need to exercise and eat well if they want to be healthy.
UPDATE: On June 27 Lydia Jade Turner contacted The Heart Foundation's Chief Officer, Maurice Swanson, requesting to see the methodology used to support the foundation's claims that the advertising messages had been “thoroughly tested to ensure they are effective and unlikely to generate unintended consequences.” Turner also left a voice message on the Foundation's contact line.
Over a week later, we have yet to hear back. Turner also raises questions about the foundation's claims of having "collaborated" with eating disorder experts on this campaign - You can read more about this issue here http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=13830
UPDATE July 10:
TEENS WERE NOT TESTED FOR IMPACT OF THESE ADS - YET ARE MOST 'AT RISK'
After more than a week had passed in making requests to see methodology, The Heart Foundation's LiveLighter campaign director, Melanie Fineberg, and its Chief Executive Maurice Swanson, finally provided brief information about the campaign's methodology to Petition Organizer Lydia Jade Turner. The information was SO vague that Lydia asked some standard questions: how were long term consequences tested for? how was risk of eating and dieting disorders assessed? what questions were put to the participants?
Instead of providing answers, Fineberg has made it clear there will be no further discussion about methodology. Given $9 million of taxpayer's money has been spent on what will be a 3 yr campaign, surely The Heart Foundation should be transparent about these matters.
It seems Fineberg's claim in the WA Today that the advertising messages were "thoroughly tested" and "unlikely to generate unintended consequences" is one The Heart Foundation can't back up.
MORE IMPORTANTLY, TEENAGERS - THE MOST AT RISK GROUP FOR EATING & DIETING DISORDERS - WERE NOT TESTED FOR IMPACT OF EXPOSURE TO THIS CAMPAIGN
UPDATE: 30 JULY 2012 - The Heart Foundation claimed they had collaborated with members of the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) in formulating this ad campaign. We have now been informed that the Chair of the NEDC has contacted the CEO of the Heart Foundation, Mr Maurice Swanson, to tell him that they 1) do NOT endorse the ads, and 2) repeated concerns that the ad campaign contradicts NEDC's guidelines on 'safe messaging' re health and weight, and is likely to have harmful impact. We are now pushing to have the NEDC publicly announce that they never endorsed this campaign, and that it is likely to be harmful.