You are here

NYC Anti-Obesity Ads: Scare Tactic or Credible Warnings?

February 8, 2012

Main Image

New Yorkers can be pretty hardened, but some of the latest ads to come out of Mayor Bloomberg's no-holds-barred anti-obesity campaign are leaving some people in shock.

Specifically addressing the extreme augmentation of portion sizes, the New York Department of Health is swapping their gross-out fat soda ads for even more distressing depictions of obese individuals afflicted by limited mobility.

In the ad to the left, an obese, one-legged man is a startling warning of the repercussions of obesity – specifically, amputation due to diabetes. Another ad shows an obese woman struggling up steep stairs. Both contain warnings about the dangers of growing portions.

Despite the laudable intent to discourage becoming obese, these grim subway posters are being rebuked as scare tactics instead of credible risk reminders.

The health department, however, cites a similarly morbid anti-smoking campaign that has chopped the percentage of New York City smokers down to only 14%. In this New York Times article, the department defends the frightening ads, saying, "When science tells us that smoking does not cause lung cancer or that obesity is not driving an epidemic of Type 2 diabetes, we will stop depicting this facts in ads."

While we support the cautionary sentiment, the health department’s take on what makes a "fact" actually factual might be skewed.

The ad above, which can currently be seen on subway trains across the city, is sure to have strap-hangers thinking twice about soda, but check out the original stock photo here. Notice the difference?

Yes, the NYC Health Department edited the man's right leg out of the photo to make a point. Is it misleading? Yes. Are there plenty of diabetics who have suffered an amputation whom the health department could pay to appear in their ads? Yes. In 2006, there were 65,700 lower limb amputations due to diabetes, and about 3,000 of them in New York alone.

Why not tell the real story?

The dangers of diabetes are very real and very scary. While New York may find that a more positive approach is not powerful enough to sway the population away from bad habits, they might want to at least rely on hard facts and not Photoshop if they want their ads to be effective.

What do you think of the New York Health Department’s advertisements?