Discourse analysis- NYC Public Health Campaign on portion size


This campaign produced by the NYC Department of Public Health [which appeared on subways and at bus stop shelters] is meant to begin a fierce fight against the obesity epidemic. In this particular advertisement, we see a woman struggling up a flight of stairs from the subway; the monochrome shading and angle all help to quite literally represent an uphill battle, a constant struggle against a portion size which the individual has no control (or awareness?) over. They establish an ambiguous time scale of “then” and “now” and tell people that portion sizes have grown with the size of people (or visa versa). It also throws in a common sense fact that obesity leads to health problems.

Clearly the source is the NYC department of public health. Their truths are base on a correspondence between the increase in portion size and in obesity. They give general statements and take a scare-tactic  the-truth-hurts approach to sharing those facts with the general public. They don’t go into details or specifics, they leave everything at a common knowledge level. The dept of public health values maintaining a healthy weight as a means to overall wellbeing, and oversimplifies the means to a heathy weight as being portion control. The target audience seems to be obese and overweight individuals who frequent fast food restaurants, most likely from a low-income household (although basically everyone rides the bus & subway). Their target audience is also probably not well educated, because these generalized facts are in no way groundbreaking and above common knowledge. The ads teach you to fear foods and encourages shaming fat individuals as unintelligent and unhealthy. They value visual physical fitness.

I am all for a holistic approach to public health education that includes information about preparing healthy meals, exercising, and avoiding excess, but these ads are aggressive and oversimplified. Isn’t there a way to provide intelligent, sensitive and accessible information to raise public health awareness? Here are some more scare tactic advertisements from the department of health:

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