Should we blame overweight parents for child's obesity?

Blue Cross Blue Shield obesity ad
A screengrab from a Blue Cross Blue Shield ad addressing a parent's responsibility for their child's obesity. Watch the videos below.
Screengrab via YouTube

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota raised eyebrows across the country when it released new anti-obesity ads last month. A departure from its well-known "do.groove" ads and its latest "" campaign, these new ads show children modeling the behavior of their overweight parents.

In one ad, two overweight boys are in a fast food establishment bragging about how much their dads can eat when one of their father's approaches the table and overhears them. In the second ad, a mother and daughter are out grocery shopping. The daughter is filling up a small shopping cart with the same junk food her mom is buying.

Blue Cross was criticized for the ads, as people claimed they were shaming overweight parents and turning off viewers from making changes in their lives.

"We wanted to make sure our messages got noticed," said Dr. Marc Manley, vice president and chief prevention officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota's Prevention Minnesota, on The Daily Circuit Tuesday. "We really wanted to raise the issue of obesity and childhood obesity and we had to be a little bit blunt. But we absolutely have never tried to shame or blame anyone.

"These are really ads where we wanted to show actually normal people doing normal things, and suddenly having a realization that maybe what they're doing isn't sending the right message to their kids about food."

Manley said Minnesotans aren't putting enough emphasis on the obesity epidemic. Only 15 percent of Minnesotans currently get their recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables, he said, and obesity could have a dramatic effect on kids growing up today.

"The generation of kids that are alive right now may be the first generation of Americans that will have a shorter lifespan than their parents because of obesity," Manley said. "This is something that affects our kids right now."

Joe Nadglowski, president and CEO of Obesity Action Coalition, also joined the discussion. He said he thinks the ads did shame parents for their behavior.

"The vast majority of people understand that they struggle with their weight, actually are trying to do something about it, but unfortunately for all of us that have ever struggled, we know that it is challenging," he said.

On The Daily Circuit blog, there were mixed reactions to the ads.

"What I see are fictional people in a moment of realization that their choices and behaviors affect their children's choices and behaviors," Erik wrote. "What's unfair about that?"

Michelle said the blaming won't change a parent's behavior.

"I think that we do a lot of finger pointing in our society instead of trying to help individuals solve challenges," she wrote. "This may cause a small number of people to have that 'aha' moment, but I think there will be a significant number that will be offended."

Lexi said parents are ultimately responsible for their child's diet.

"No one is responsible for teaching about eating habits and nutrition except for us as parents," she wrote. "Just as we must discourage our kids from using drugs, smoking, underage drinking and other risky behavior. It is not up to schools, the government, or anyone else (while I am glad that these organizations step up when a good role model is not available at home). It is one thing if a parent chooses to eat unhealthy and become overweight, but please don't also make that choice for your child. Generally the child is not in control of what food is served to them at home."

Nadglowski and Manley agreed that there needs to be more education for people struggling with their weight that explains simple things they can do to make positive change in their health. It's not about drastic diets or exercise plans, but simply eating healthier and getting more active.


Make one small change to your diet or activity level each week.

Be realistic about your goals. For most people, losing 5 to 10 percent of your current weight would improve your health.

Focus your grocery store shopping on the perimeter of the store. Buy fresh produce, dairy and protein and steer clear of packaged goods.

Drink water instead of a sugary beverage when you eat out.

Look at your current intake of fast food and limit it. Allow yourself to buy fast food once a week or once a month, depending on your current routine.

VIDEO: The ads

Are these new ads unfair to overweight parents? Comment on the blog.

Meggan Ellingboe contributed to this report.