recently reported on a "socially irresponsible" TV ad from Diet Chef being
banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ad portrayed the
character "Cheryl" as being happier when she lost weight. A "future, happy,
leaner Cheryl" was seen discussing the benefits of weight loss with "former,
unhappy, over-weight Cheryl".
The ad received 26 complaints stating it was offensive to
women and irresponsible for exploiting women's insecurities about their bodies
by implying they needed to be slim to be happy. Those who complained also said
the ad implied overweight people did not take care of themselves or how they
looked. The ASA's ruling stated the ad focused too much on the negative feelings
of "former Cheryl" and implied weight-loss was the only way to achieve
happiness. The ad was banned in its current form.
As a result of this decision, several questions immediately
spring to mind. Firstly, implication is subjective, therefore how many women did
not agree with the complainants' perceptions of the ad? Secondly, are the 26
complaints reflective of the views of the majority of women who viewed the ad?
Thirdly, are we, out of some sense of political correctness, censoring the
scientifically-validated route to improved physical and psychological health
that weight loss represents, simply to appease a certain section of the
community? And ultimately, should we as a society adopt the wholesale approach
that should someone get upset with what we say or do about bodyweight, we stop
saying or doing it??
Image courtesy of TRAINFITNESS.
To start, we should first determine the medical definition
of "overweight". Overweight is defined by the NHS as a body mass index over 25;
Former Cheryl had a BMI of 27.4. According to the medical literature, it is
inarguable that losing weight and moving from the overweight range to the
healthy weight range can bring about physical and psychological improvements.
Physical improvements can include reduced risk of a variety of diseases, having
more energy, increased mobility, decreased cholesterol and lower blood pressure
whilst psychological improvements can include better body image, decrease in
depressive symptoms, increased self-esteem and increased vitality. With this being the case, don't we have the obligation, if not the right,
to communicate this message as widely and as quickly and as clearly as we can?
After all, according to NHS, obesity-related heart disease is one of the top
five reasons for premature death in the UK...and 64% of the population is now
classified overweight or obese. So given the seriousness of the problem, should
we allow one's feelings to get in the way of this at best life-saving, at worst
The subject of feelings is a complex issue, but at their
core feelings are subjective and personal and unique to the individual
experiencing them at that particular moment in time. What you smile at, I might
not. What you smile at today, you might not smile at tomorrow.
The makers of the ad claimed the ad showed the frustration
of "former Cheryl" who had been unable to make a change in her lifestyle, and
the sense of achievement of the "later Cheryl" having now done so. "Later
Cheryl" achieved her goal and was happy about it.
In the end, it seems it was decided by the ASA that a
message refuted by the creators of the ad but deemed implied by the ASA was more
important to the public's health than the scientifically-validated message that
weight loss can improve physical and psychological health.
Just who is being socially irresponsible?