Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Respectfully Disagree

I read a blog post today by Yoni Freedhoff, M.D.  He writes at Weighty Matters.  I enjoy his blog and I follow it regularly.  He is an obesity medicine doc and I normally agree with what he writes.  Today, he wrote a post about a video produced by the folks at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta titled "About that "Powerful" New Obesity Video Everyone's Sharing".  For your reference, here is the video:

He writes, "Presumably the point of the ad is to cause viewers with weight, and parents of kids who may be struggling, to feel sufficient guilt, shame and self-loathing that they finally decide to change their ways." While I completely agree that there is no value in guilting, shaming or causing self-loathing in obese children or their parents I'm not sure that this is the point of the video.

Admittedly the video is shocking, but as someone who suffered from healthy privilege as Carolyn Thomas at Heart Sisters writes in 'Healthy Privilege'-When You Just Can't Imagine Being Sick right up until I was sick, I have to argue that guilting children or their parents should not be seen as the point of this video.  Like it or not, in the USA (Dr. Freedhoff is from Canada and I can't speak for Canadians--Carolyn is from Canada too!) our culture responds to shock value.  When medical organizations or providers are trying to grab the attention of patients, they have to weigh what will be effective enough to start conversation.

As I watch this video, I see me and I see the way I fed my children.  Everyone likes to pretend that exactly what this video shows is really not that unhealthy.  It is the reality of the right now, on the run lifestyle of many Americans and they don't see any harm in it--what great danger this puts them in.  I used to partake in it and my heart attack was caused by nothing other than lifestyle.  Since I have had a heart attack, I have stopped feeding my family and myself like this.  We partake on rare occasion but now my once young children that used to only ask for chicken nuggets and fries are a few years older and they balk at the thought of McDonald's.  It makes them physically ill because we just rarely eat like this.  The effectiveness of this video lies in the fact that this walks backwards right through a life that causes obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  I know that people see themselves in this.  I did and and I am here to tell you from personal experience the operating table is right where they will end up and that is if they are lucky.  Sometimes they are not so lucky and it is the table in the morgue and not the OR  where they end up.  My hope is that a video like this  has strong enough shock value for at least one person that sees themselves in it to start a serious conversation with their doctor.

As I go out into the community here in Kansas City to educate, I understand the point of this video.   I keep in mind my thought process before I was sick--before I suffered a sudden, massive heart attack.  Despite my unhealthy lifestyle, you couldn't have talked to me about diabetes, cancer or heart disease and me think that those things would really ever happen to me. How arrogant is that? It is the struggle that goes through my mind as I am preparing to talk with women about heart disease.  What can I possibly say to them that will drive home the point that heart disease is the number one killer of women and have them think that it applies to them?  I'm not really sure but I am totally honest with them about my thought process before my heart attack.  I tell them that I was like them and that it is my greatest hope that they will understand that it can absolutely happen to them.

So, congratulations to the folks at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.  It does not matter if you see this through the eyes of Dr. Freedhoff, through my eyes or have another opinion, they started a conversation and that is priceless.


  1. Hi Jodi - a timely and thought-provoking response to Dr. Freedhof's post.

    I too had a similar reaction to the Atlanta video when I first saw it. I did not see "fat-shaming" at all - what I saw was a big smack right upside the head to parents who are - for whatever reason - choosing to feed their babies unhealthy foods, thus setting them on a lifelong path towards unhealthy adult eating.

    Here in Canada, our national Heart and Stroke Foundation hit a big mess of controversy three years ago when it launched an awareness campaign about women's heart disease - our #1 killer. The campaign was called "Make Death Wait" and it featured a creepy menacing voiceover (the voice of death) following women around as they did regular everyday activities. The 'reach' statistics showed that 87% of Canadian adults were exposed to this awareness campaign - an astounding success rate, especially since the message "#1 killer of women" was information retained by a majority of all viewers.

    My point is that many people HATED this campaign. Really hated it! It was too "in your face!" It was too much of everything. The response was immediate and damning.

    Yet most of us would readily agree that no other Heart and Stroke Foundation awareness campaign (the pleasant ones with pretty flowers and rainbows and nice music reminding us to eat healthy and exercise) had been even remotely effective in teaching us that one simple fact about women's heart disease.

    Sometimes we resent seeing this "in your face" messaging (like in this Atlanta video) precisely because - unlike so many other ad campaigns that are utterly ignored - they force us to listen and look at reality. We could wait until we experience a heart attack as you and I both did, or we could pay close attention and start making different choices before it's too late.

    Thanks for this!

    1. PS I think your link to Dr. Freedhof's post is dead: try this one instead: http://www.weightymatters.ca/2014/08/about-that-powerful-new-obesity-video.html

    2. I updated the link! Thank you!

    3. Thanks Carolyn! I know people hate this campaign but I truly believe it is campaigns like this that cause the conversation. What you refer to is proof. Those sweet campaigns are nice but just not all that effective!

      Sometimes for people like me that suffered that healthy privilege there is nothing nice you can say to make them understand the seriousness of the diagnosis they are facing. Six weeks before my heart attack although my cholesterol was in the low 130's and by BP was 110/70 my family doc let me know that I would have a heart attack by the time I was 60 if I didn't change my lifestyle. He was really nice and I ignored him and six weeks later was the victim of a STEMI.

      Would I have paid more attention if he used more force and shock value? I have no idea. I do know from the looks on the women's faces that I speak to that they don't get it. They still think it doesn't apply to them. That is the battle and campaigns like this serve to open the conversation!

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  3. Jodi, your last paragraph reminds me of an audience member at one of my women's heart health talks here at the University of Victoria. At the end of the presentation (2 hours of listening to me talk about my own heart attack story, cardiac risk factors and how to address them, symptoms of heart attack, blahblahblah, this woman shoots up her hand and announces: "I used to be very afraid of having a heart attack someday - but now that I see you here, walking, talking, laughing and looking great, I'm now thinking that maybe heart disease is not that bad..." Oh great. Not only have I not scared her one bit - but she sounded like she was actually looking forward to her cardiac event!!! Arrrrrgggg....

  4. Oh no! I guess she doesn't get the reality that it is an everyday fight and that it really sucks! I fear the same thing some times. That women will see me and think that because I survived so will they. I was just lucky that I happened to fall into the less than 20% that survive the widowmaker and not the over 80% that don't!