Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Does CSPI's Real Bears Video Promote Anti-Fat Bias?

That was the question posed to me by 3 keen young RDs who attended my last Friday's trenchtalk in Toronto.

Funny thing is, I knew exactly where they were coming from. The first time I watched CSPI's Real Bears video I too scratched my head and pondered whether or not the message was fair.

In the video (which if you haven't seen it is embedded below) a family of polar bears is depicted drinking "happiness" by means of a caramel coloured sugared soda that looks like Coca-Cola and in turn suffering some health consequences.

Papa bear gets it the worst. He gains weight, splits his pants, develops diabetes, endures bleeding gums and tooth decay, suffers erectile dysfunction, and requires a leg amputation.

Baby bear also suffers a touch as he finds himself too large to hunt a delicious and tasty fish.

So indeed, CSPI's video portrays an association between the consumption of sugared soda and obesity (and diabetes), but I don't think it promotes anti-fat stereotypes.

The fact is drinking sugar sweetened beverages does increase your risk of developing obesity and/or type 2 diabetes and what CSPI does not do is stoop to stereotype to add flavour to the bears. The bears aren't portrayed as lazy. They're not portrayed as gluttonous. They're not portrayed as stupid. They've just found themselves caught up in the current of junk food marketing and have made sugar-sweetened beverages a regular part of their lives.

CSPI targets a behaviour - drinking sugar-sweetened beverages - as unhealthy. And guess what? They're right.

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  1. I'm not sure I'd say these ads are "fat shaming" but I would say that they are problematic and unfair. First, while drinking SSBs has been linked to obesity, we always have to be careful to lead consumers to thinking things are causally related. Second, the "risks" of obesity are overstated and not clearly defined to the majority of the world. You and I know that obesity can actually be a benefit (over 65 population; certain surgery patients, etc) and that there are plenty of metabolically healthy fat people. Thirdly, weight is not a neutral topic. If we were weight-neutral in our society, then I'd have no problem with all of our ads depicting fat people eating junk food (as I wouldn't skinny people eating junk food). However, fat people are consistently stigmatized and discriminated against and ads like these only ADD to it. Ads like these encourage employers, health institutions and others to legally discriminate against fat people for "lifestyle choices." *bangs head against wall*

  2. The bears are portrayed very positively. I think it is the opposite of fat shaming, they are , for cartoon bears anyway, portrayed as having full and rich bear-lives with some behaviors that they learn are not good for them and they learn to change them. For all the constant bombardment we receive of advertising to consume SSBs and other calorie rich non-food, it is incomprehensible to me that anyone would criticize this charming cartoon presenting one tiny voice in opposition. Fat people are stigmatized and marginalized when media refuses to portray them at all, and really, they are not obese people they are friggin' fat CARTOON BEARS.

    1. Anonymous8:52 am

      Yes they are friggin CARTOON BEARS representing friggin FAT PEOPLE. You missed this one Yoni. The add may target one behavior but it still implies that fat people can solve all their problems if they just stopped drinking sugary drinks - it can help but is this the cure? Plenty of my relatives - first and second generation Italian immigrants - are overweight and have never even tried a pop drink their entire lives.