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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This week a new, anti-obesity media campaign in Minnesota has been getting attention.

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UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR #1: (As character) Do you know my dad can eat three huge bacon cheeseburgers - this big?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR #2: (As character) For my dad, that's like a snack.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR #1: (As character) Yeah, well, he also...

GREENE: This TV spot sparked a debate about targeting overweight people and their habits, in the name of public health. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin reports.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: So that ad...

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UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR #3: (As character) Yeah, well, my dad can eat five buckets of fried chicken.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR #4: (As character) My dad can eat a thousand chicken nuggets.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR #5: (As character) My dad...

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: An overweight dad listens to the kids as he walks up, and looks down guiltily at his tray of fries and burgers.

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UNIDENTIFIED CHILD ACTOR #5: (As character) Well, one day, I'll be able to eat twice that.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Text flashes over the screen. Quote: "Today is the day we set a better example for our kids."

LINDY WEST: The idea that some kids would sit around bragging about their fat dad, who's so proud of how fat he is - is just ludicrous.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's Lindy West. She's a writer for the blog "Jezebel," and she wrote a tirade about the new ad campaign.

WEST: I just find it to be really reductive and really - condescending, is what comes to mind. Like, fat people know about nutrition. We know that eating four cheeseburgers a day, is not the way to go.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: West wrote, in her piece, about her own experience growing up big and tall and overweight. From her point of view, these ads don't educate as much as they shame.

WEST: Fat people are already ashamed. People are already really unhappy with their bodies - which has a lot to do with the way that other people talk to you, and these preconceived notions that they have about your life. Like, fat people hate being fat because everyone's mean to you; and you can't find clothes that fit you; and you can't fit in the chair, at the restaurant. Like, we've been shaming fat people for decades and clearly, it's not doing anyone any good.

DR. MARC MANLEY: Our intent in creating these ads, was really just to show good parents having moments of realization; what they needed to change - their own behavior - in order to send the right message to their kid.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: That's Dr. Marc Manley, vice president and chief prevention officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. He says the nonprofit used to put out PSAs that were more positive - encouraging people to get up and dance, and stuff like that. But the problem is so tough, they decided to try this new approach. Now, obviously, these are two, very particular perspectives on a really complicated issue. I wanted to get some context, so I reached out to Dr. Rebecca Puhl at Yale.

DR. REBECCA PUHL: We've recently done some research, specifically looking at public support for different anti-obesity campaigns.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She's spent over a decade studying attitudes towards weight. And the research has shown that people respond best to supportive messages that are specific - like, take the stairs; or, eat five fruits and veggies a day.

PUHL: But when campaign messages communicate blame or shame or stigma, people report much less motivation, and lower intentions to improve their health behavior.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Manley, in Minnesota, stands by the new ads; saying they're part of a bunch of different approaches, and that the response has been mostly positive.

MANLEY: We want these ads to trigger some thinking, and some dialogue, about this very serious health problem.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: They've certainly done that. Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News.

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