Philly Ad Campaign on Childhood Obesity and Diabetes Sparks Outrage

“They have just opened up a war against Type 1 diabetic children,” one person wrote

What to Know

  • A Philly health campaign linking sugary snacks and childhood obesity to diabetes has sparked controversy.
  • A health expert says the campaign doesn't specify the difference between Type 2 and Type 1 diabetes, which is not linked to eating sugar.
  • The Philadelphia Dept. of Health apologized and said they would specify that the campaign is about Type 2 diabetes.

A local health campaign on childhood obesity has sparked controversy due to what some parents have called a false and insulting message regarding diabetes.

The campaign from Food Fit Philly features social media videos and billboards, one of which is located just off the Schuylkill Expressway near the Walt Whitman Bridge, warning parents about the dangers of sugary snacks for children. It shows a picture of a child eating a snack and a person injecting insulin in their belly with the message, “Today’s after school snack could be tomorrow's diabetes.”

The campaign led to outrage from several parents who reached out to NBC10.

“They have just opened up a war against Type 1 diabetic children,” one person wrote. “Do you know how dangerous this type of advertising is, millions of children now are open to public ridicule, bullying, depression and anxiety especially for teens and newly dxd. They have just opened up a class action lawsuit, the depression and death and suicide rate is high already.”

Patricia Zebertavage, the mother of a 3-year-old boy with Type 1 diabetes, told NBC10 the ad campaign is shaming those with diseases.

“I think that the message is meant to shock and scare and I think it’s really bullying,” she said. “My son’s disease is an autoimmune disease. His body attacked itself. His pancreas no longer produces insulin. So he has a major organ failure.”

Zebertavage is one of more than 2,000 people to sign a petition calling on the city to stop the campaign.

Dr. Rob Danoff of Jefferson Health told NBC10 the city’s campaign doesn’t address the important difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

“Type 1 diabetes has a totally different cause than Type 2 which has to do with food and being overweight and inactive,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health apologized for “any hurt” that the campaign caused. He also stated that the campaign was focused on Type 2 diabetes rather than Type 1. 

“Given that 17% of children in Philadelphia today are overweight and 22% are obese, which is a sign that they are already at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, we felt that something had to be done,” the spokesperson wrote.

The spokesperson said that the campaign was intended to make parents aware that the path to Type 2 diabetes can start at a young age. He also acknowledged that Type 1 diabetes is not caused by obesity.

“Because of the confusion between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in this ad campaign, we have changed the language being used in our online messaging to highlight that this is about Type 2 diabetes,” the spokesperson wrote. “And we’re working to see if it’s possible to make a similar change on the billboards.”

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