Family Matters

Does Nike’s ‘Greatness’ Ad Exploit Fat People?

Opinions are mixed on whether a Nike commercial featuring 12-year-old Nathan Sorrell, who weighs 200 lbs., combats or promotes stigma surrounding obesity

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Nathan Sorrell, a middle-school student from London, Ohio, is 12 years old, 5-ft.-3-in. tall and weighs 200 lbs. He’s likely one of the last people you’d think Nike would laud in an ad campaign. Yet there he is, lumbering down the middle of Old Xenia Road, his bulk silhouetted against a pastel sky.

Nathan runs and runs, clearly exhausted with the immense effort, as a narrator speaks in church-like tones of greatness, informing us that “we’re all capable of it. All of us.”

The message is pretty clear. Human will — in this case Nathan’s apparent desire to get fit — is a thing of incredible power. His determination to slim down is deserving of reverence — and a prime viewing spot during the Olympics broadcast. Nike selected Nathan to participate in its “Find Your Greatness” ad campaign that showcased towns the world over that shared the same name as the city hosting feats of athletic prowess.

I struggled to decide whether this ad exploited Nathan, or whether Nike was making an incredibly generous and open-minded overture toward people who wouldn’t typically make much use of their products. Was this an attempt to tackle the stigma surrounding childhood obesity — 1 in 3 U.S. kids is overweight — or was it a publicity stunt?

According to his local newspaper, the Record Herald, Nathan answered a casting call at his middle school for a boy “with a specific profile.”

He was instructed to jog behind a Porsche outfitted with a boom and camera. On the second take, a problem arose. The lunch Sorrell had eaten about an hour before didn’t stay down.

“I got sick in a ditch,” he admitted.

Not to worry, said Lance. He agreed to allow Sorrell enough time to recover.

“We’ll try to work with you,” Sorrell said, quoting the director. “They were lenient with me.”

(MORE: Too Much TV Linked with Thicker, Weaker Kids)

My brother, a triathlete and the person who called the ad to my attention, was impressed with the ad’s message. “Cool Nike spot,” he commented. Of the more than 960,000 people who’ve watched the clip on YouTube, many have called it “inspiring” and “amazing.” One viewer commented: “Best commercial out for a while, props to Nike.”

Nathan told the Record Herald that he and his mom plan to team up to slim down together by exercising and eating healthier. Nike may return for a follow-up if they’re successful.

Of course, it’s unclear how to measure success in a kid who weighs more than 99% of his peers. If he loses 10 lbs, is that cause for celebration? Or would it take a much more dramatic weight loss to sufficiently impress the company and bring the cameras back?

That ambiguity is part of what makes Dr. David Katz, editor-in-chief of the journal Childhood Obesity, ambivalent about the ad. While he agrees that obesity is not an obstacle to achievement, he’s uneasy with the message that Nathan is chasing greatness by running.

“He looks miserably uncomfortable, and as if he’s about to topple over. There is no hint of greatness in it — other than, perhaps, his commitment to do it.  But maybe he is a great mathematician — or orator — or pianist…” he wrote in an email.

“So, I would have preferred they showed his pursuit of greatness in a way that was not so obviously far from great, so obviously impeded by his weight and so blatantly uncomfortable!”

(MORE: Good News: American Kids’ Cholesterol Levels Are Down)

But even within the childhood obesity community, opinions are mixed.

On its website, Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity praised Nike for demonstrating “its commitment to demystify myths about overweight and obese people.” Rebecca Puhl, Rudd’s director of research, was surprised — pleasantly — by the ad, which she believes challenges stereotypes of obese people as lazy, crazy for junk food and lacking in willpower or self-discipline.

“By featuring an overweight boy in their ad (and doing so in a respectful manner), Nike challenges the stereotype that overweight youth are inactive, and shows that body size has nothing to do with a person’s ambition or ability to push themselves to achieve their goals,” Puhl wrote in an email. “It also shows the importance of respecting individuals who are trying to improve their health through physical activity, regardless of what their body size is.”

Perhaps YouTube fan TheLordVallon best summed up the clip’s significance with his commentary on Nike’s intentions and the concept of change in general. “I don’t care if it’s fake/shrewd advertising/[a] quick buck. I liked this commercial because it shows that all it takes is a choice to be greater.”

MORE: Obesity: Playing Three or More Sports Cuts the Rate of Overweight Teens

210 comments
MillanJankovic
MillanJankovic

Dr. David Katz Dosnt understand the advertisement at all. Something in particular is very important to each of us, and living in that moment is greatness

racfisch3113
racfisch3113

As this article states, the commercial can be judged many different ways. I think that this commercial is extremely beneficial to our society. In fact, I think Nike should be making more to support the theme of Nathan Sorrell’s story. That is, if the underlying theme is that greatness is possible for anyone no matter what size. I am not saying that greatness is always going to be achieved by becoming fit. I am saying that anyone can be healthy and can find a personal way to be great. A person can be healthy no matter where they are in life. However, people assume that weight loss is a realistic goal for every person. How can we pressure every person into this weight-loss paradigm in society? Weight loss is not for everyone as shown by Linda Bacon in her article “Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift.” Bacon states, “Research shows that by learning to value their bodies as they are right now, even when this differs from a desired weight or shape or generates ambivalent feelings, people strengthen their ability to take care of themselves and sustain improvements in health behaviors.” If people embrace who they are, it is easier for them to become great. I think that body image is so much more important from the health standpoint and research is beginning to agree. This commercial embraces Nathan’s healthy habits instead of healthy looks. Our society has become weight obsessed and it is so refreshing to see a popular company promoting a new idea. Nathan is great and anyone can be great no matter what size they are. Greatness is not measured in pounds, it is measured by the content of our character.

Reference: Bacon, Linda, and Lucy Aphramor. "Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift." Nutrition Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2013.

swackerman
swackerman

I loved this commercial not only for its promotion of everyone can be great, but because of the motivation it gave to Nathan and his mother post commercial. Imagine what other kids in similar situations to Nathan must be thinking when they see this commercial. I would like to think it is telling them that they can be great as well and to stop believing in the stereotype that our world has out there that keeps pushing them down. If anything, I hope that this commercial will advertise that fact that you can be fit and fat, and that’s all that matters. All that should ever matter is that you are fit and are comfortable in the body you were born with and do your best to nurture that body and keep it functioning properly. According to the article Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, by Linda Bacon and a numerous amount of other authors, most health indicators can be improved through changing health behaviors, regardless of whether weight is lost. For example, lifestyle changes can reduce blood pressure, largely or completely independent of changes in body weight. The same can be said for blood lipids. Improvements in insulin sensitivity and blood lipids as a result of aerobic exercise training have been documented even in individuals who gained body fat during the intervention. It is also proven that if you are fit and fat versus skinny and unfit, you’re morality rate goes up. If kids knew these statistics and weren’t always just hearing that they need to lose weight in order to be healthy I feel like they would be a lot more willing to get out there and be as active as they want and do what they want without that feeling of judgment or shame. Everyone, especially kids, should love their body and feel confident in themselves and their lives.

Bacon L, Stern J, Van Loan M, Keim N: Size acceptance and intuitive eating improve health for obese, female chronic dieters. J Am Diet Assoc 2005, 105:929-936.

Rush River Media
Rush River Media

Dr. Katz, you know nothing about what you speak of. Step outside of your doubt and then maybe you'll see your path to greatness. When I watch this ad, I assume it is the will of the child to be uncomfortable in grasping, what may seem to others as trivial, a small bit of achievement/success. When you doubt someone's initiative you might as well be doubting their abilities as well and that, my friend, is bigotry. Bravo Nike and damn you Nike for beating me to the punch on this ad concept. In my opinion, it hit the bulls eye – dead on.

johnsmith9875
johnsmith9875

First time I've ever seen truth in advertising.   The fat kids are the ones wearing the expensive Nikes.   I run 2 miles a day and I just wear whatever costs $29.99 in the running shoe store.

Charles Frith
Charles Frith

The people who created this ad are among the finest and  most authentic people in a famously superficial business. One can argue against it and one can argue it's a mini masterpiece that has captured the complexity of living in the Kali Yuga. In some ways it says this is not about consumerism and brands. It's about you. This is to be applauded.

bernard parsons
bernard parsons

Who cares? How are the people who are watching this video looking at fat people getting healthy, that's what matters. Are they Nike's brand loyal consumers? Is Nike as a company meant to be 'loyal' to us as consumers. Thank you for the advertisement for Nike, Time. Your reporting remains helpful and relevant as ever.

John
John

Walking, to me, is better than running, especially for those like me who are overweight. Running puts more stress on joints. When you are overweight, the stress increases. Plus, the surface you choose to walk or run on matters. Concrete is hard versus ground. I always have less joint effects from walking on my local nature trail, versus the asphalt at my local zoo. I personally walk, hike, ride my exercycle  or ride my bicycle. The calorie burn rate may be lower, but my joints are happier for it!

Mike Riding
Mike Riding

Ha ha ha! If this ad exploits overweight people, then every other ad Nike runs exploits fit people, or skinny people, or anorexic people. Seriously, there are two sides to the spectrum here. How about we talk about how both men and women are totally sexualized and objectified in advertising? Goodness, if we're going to talk about human exploitation in advertising,  there are bigger fish to fry.

This ad is awesome. It shows the human will to change and progress. I hope this kid keeps running for the rest of his life. 

nuuanumama
nuuanumama

Yup, I think it is wonderful especially if Nathan is inspired.  Nike would do well to continue to encourage Nathan and have a series of commercials showing his progress.  Subway got a lot of mileage out of, was his name Jason, the guy that lost weight eating Subway sandwiches.

Mia Tetangco
Mia Tetangco

Of course it's exploiting fat people. Not just them, but the people's perception of their condition. It's using the image of the obese kid to send the message that Nike is undiscriminating and supportive of those who have goals. It just so happens that the particular goal this kid is aiming for needs running shoes--and, hey, guess who makes them?

It is neither promoting nor combating the stigma against obesity; it is simply using the public's varying perceptions of the issue to create an advertisement.

Mia Tetangco
Mia Tetangco

Of course it's exploiting fat people. Not just them, but the people's perception of their condition. It's using the image of the obese kid to send the message that Nike is undiscriminating and supportive of those who have goals. It just so happens that the particular goal this kid is aiming for needs running shoes--and, hey, guess who makes them?

It is neither promoting nor combating the stigma against obesity; it is simply using the public's varying perceptions of the issue to create an advertisement.

Mia Tetangco
Mia Tetangco

Of course it's exploiting fat people. Not just them, but the people's perception of their condition. It's using the image of the obese kid to send the message that Nike is undiscriminating and supportive of those who have goals. It just so happens that the particular goal this kid is aiming for needs running shoes--and, hey, guess who makes them?

It is neither promoting nor combating the stigma against obesity; it is simply using the public's varying perceptions of the issue to create an advertisement.

1981Canada
1981Canada

Over analyzing idiot. Here are the facts. Nike is business and they are out to make money. This is a campaign to reach a group of people who don't usually buy their products because they are fat and lazy (yes clearly I take an opposing view to the Rudd Center). It is not exploitive; they put an search out and the Nathan with his parents permission, of course, tried out. He got the spot. Congratulations to him. This is the world we live in. People do for themselves; yes they give some charity on the way but primarily act in their own self interest. Nike will make money. The athletes at the Olympics will strive for fame and to be the best - but only some will achieve even one. Nathan will make some money and be on TV which was probably his initial goal. Now he has a new goal: he says he will try to continue. If he succeeds he will have made the best decision of his life and in the end will have "exploited" not just Nike but all of us who were consumed by the drama and pushed him towards a healthy life. Will we be quite as critical of him as we are of Nike?

Frank Capra
Frank Capra

I'm sharing this article with my university students: it's a great example of how academics (and others) indulge in over-analysis, to the point where the obvious is lost. The comment by Dr. Katz, editor of "Childhood Obesity," is priceless! (Yes, beginning runners often do look "miserably uncomfortable" Dr. Katz!).

Fat Heffalump
Fat Heffalump

Even this article stigmatises and dehumanises fat people.  You refer to Nathan as "lumbering" and "bulk" - Nathan is a human being, and he has a body.  He is moving in the way his body moves, and you can see his BODY silhouetted by the sky.  Perhaps look at your own attitudes towards fat people before you question that of Nike.

That aside, our greatness lies in who we are as people and what we achieve with our lives, not what our bodies look like or what we can physically do.  Would you say Stephen Hawking is any less great because of his physical ability or his appearance?  Human beings are far more valuable than how "hot" they look, or even their level of health.  Appearance and health have NO moral value.  I ride my bike because I love it and it's fun, not to prove my worth as a human being.

duo_viper
duo_viper

Seriously? This is one of the most moving, inspiring commercials I've ever seen. Why is it such a big deal when people that don't look like the "norm" (slender, white, etc) end up on TV? I saw this and felt inspired. Are bloggers really that starved for things to blog about?

Chronos_1966
Chronos_1966

“He looks miserably uncomfortable, and as if he’s about to topple over. There is no hint of greatness in it — other than, perhaps, his commitment to do it. "

Dr. Katz this is a ridiculous statement to make, of course it is about his committment. 

Besides, who are you to tell him that he shouldn't be doing it - because he looks uncomfortable?  I can show you a thousand photos of paper-thin runners that all look like they are about to topple over; and if you ask any one of them, they'd say they were enjoying themselves. 

Anyone can do what is easy and comfortable - the fact that he is struggling makes his determination that much more impressive. 

Nathan, I'm proud of you and wish you the best of everything!   I don't know about anyone else, but you've certainly inspired me!

Tara Elise
Tara Elise

I love the commercial, I do find your article incredibly ignorant though. Fat people 'wouldn't generally use their products' because why, fat people don't wear sneakers?? Or workout?? Also, the theme to me seems to be about getting into shape, whether or not that includes weightloss (no the two are NOT the same thing).  It's funny that we saw the same commercial but your perception of it is compromised by your bias.

Ladylou007
Ladylou007

Accolades to Nike advertising for finally waking - up to reality!

MoHillBilly
MoHillBilly

It would really cool if in the future Nike shows the same kid jogging down the same road - but in much better physical condition

protectourkidsnow
protectourkidsnow

I'm guessing Dr. David Katz has been locked away in some ivory tower or down at Starbucks on his laptop publishing his next scholarly article so that he doesn't perish as an academic. Maybe he should go to a run sometime and take a look. There are folks of all shapes and sizes that run AND finish at distances that may make Dr. Katz blush. Sure, lots of folks that run look miserably uncomfortable but that isn't always just confined to those that are overweight. I applaud this kid, he is getting out and getting it done, I only hope that he continues to be inspired and not listen to idiots like Dr. Katz. Go Nathan, Go Nike! 

KiwiKan
KiwiKan

Any Nike ad that does NOT glorify Michael Vick is fine.

andacar
andacar

I can't see how anybody aside from some oversensitive "advocate" could possibly be offended by this terrific ad. I see more "can do" spirit in this magnificent kid than I've seen in a thousand commercials with pretty-face perfect models. Only in our "good lord we might offend somebody" age would this ridiculous question even come up.

Sireland961
Sireland961

You have to start somewhere, and while watching the Olympics, folks might just throw their hands up and think theyll never look like Phelps, or Misty, or whoever...but every out of shape person who desires to be better sees themselves in that kid, and THAT is why it works

Sireland961
Sireland961

You have to start somewhere, and while watching the Olympics, folks might just throw their hands up and think theyll never look like Phelps, or Misty, or whoever...but every out of shape person who desires to be better sees themselves in that kid, and THAT is why it works.

Norman Dostal
Norman Dostal

the kid is fat-VERY fat-he chose to eat himself that big-and hes working on it-good for him-no exploitation here-he was paid

Brian Gosselin
Brian Gosselin

NIKE should sponsor a personal trainer for the kid and come back in a year with a new commercial to show.  That would be an amazing display of determination and success for the kid.  It would be a win-win for both parties.  One would be healthy and the other would have a pretty awesome follow-up commercial.  How is watching him run any different than watching The Biggest Loser?  Both are very inspirational for those that want to get in shape.

Greatness is taking that first, second, third step and so on to achieve their goal! 

oh_em_gee
oh_em_gee

This commercial is amazing. I strongly feel that we need to show more images of fat people making themselves healthy to combat obesity. I'm so sick of those who think we need to "sympathize" with the overweight. Certainly don't make them feel like shit, and don't praise a stick-thin image. But we shouldn't feel bad for those who are obese because they are lazy and can't control their portions. 

micgre8162
micgre8162

I liked the ad.  I liked the miserably uncomfortable look on Nathan's face and in his body posture.  Most of us do not look as unfazed by physical activity as say, Usain Bolt, at the end.  Most of us are sweaty, miserably uncomfortable, and ready to puke when we finish a good exercise session.  If it's a new distance or a personal best or simply completing a run when you really don't want to, the sense of "greatness" is definitely there.

I think Dr. Katz is off base implying that an obese kid may only achieve greatness in some non-physical way.  He misses the point entirely.  We call talented athletes "great", but I feel the term is misused.  They're talented, skilled, and perform to the level of their and our expectations.  In what way does that make them great?

An overweight kid busting his butt to lose the excess weight?  That's the stuff of greatness.

David Horn
David Horn

Only Time could take something so beautifully human in its simplicity, and then unabashedly hammer it into an emblem for discrimination and anti-capitalism. I am also stunned that a physician would take issue with the idea of an obese young boy wanting to take control of his own health.

namtelkcunk
namtelkcunk

You missed the point completely. This ad is incredibly inspiring and true, because it's real. He is not a model. He's not a professional athlete. This a real, and unfortunately, all too honest reflection of a lot of americans today. And to see this young boy out there. His desire. His drive. His determination to be fit should be applauded, not panned. I  am a runner and every time I run past an unfit runner, such as this boy, I applaud them for their courage to get out there and find their 'greatness.' I can tell you it's a lot more difficult to run when you're unfit, and seeing this boy doing this is truly emotional and inspirational.

JoeTexas
JoeTexas

When you really get down to it, I think the message is "turn off the TV, get off your ass and move your body".  Exercise doesn't have to mean going to a gym or running laps or contorting yourself according to some DVD-based fitness program.  Walk, ride your bike, play outside with your kids and/or your dog.  It's not as complicated as you think.

Angela Colleen O'Neil
Angela Colleen O'Neil

The greatness being represented it this commercial is succeeding and achieving through adversity and difficulty. He may be a great mathematician or pianist, but he won't appreciate or be appreciated for this skill if he is defeated by the problems that can arise from obesity.  This wasn't meant to be his life story, just one leg of his lifelong journey to better himself. One that 1 out of every 3 American children (and adults) can relate to. No looks aren't everything, but health is pretty close. We should support this kid (and all kids) in the journey to health so they can have long lives doing the things they love, whether it be singing, running or playing HALO.

mhunterjr
mhunterjr

I admit, I haven't watched the commercial yet, but the notion that making a commercial featuring a obese kid is inherently exploitative is sickening. at the very least, being obese is unhealthy, and making an effort to improve ones health is GREAT!

That said, running is uncomfortable for anyone who is out of shape, regardless of their size...

Mike Kieger
Mike Kieger

I used to be an obese child - luckily I was able to slim down before High School.  I thought the commercial, whatever its intent, gave off a good vibe.  We can't pretend the childhood obesity epidemic doesn't exist and I think this commercial could give some hope to heavy kids that there is a chance for them to get healthy.  I'm far more concerned with weight loss reality shows exploiting obesity than this particular commercial.

BubbaCo
BubbaCo

I saw this commercial for the first time last night, and I probably watched it 4 or 5 times. I took it as inspirational...I was thinking that I admired this kid for pushing himself. I pretty much hate the Nike Corporation, but I liked the ad.

cl2unk
cl2unk

If fat people feel offended shouldnt they just lose weight through any of the methods modern society has bestowed upon us.  Then they will be healthier and won't be offended.  Or they can just learn that EVERYTHING will not be politically correct.

jayman419
jayman419

Dr. Katz is just a horrible person. Nathan is making a conscious effort to get healthier (which is absolutely and without a doubt 'great' by the way) and the only thing Dr. Katz takes away from it is that the fat kid looks funny when he runs.

As editor-in-chief, he sets the tone of that entire magazine. Instead of focusing on how Nathan looks, why doesn't he wholeheartedly encourage the little dude for even trying?

lill5
lill5

I really liked this ad. I identified with the kid. At his age, and now even to be honest, I'd be afraid other kids or adults would come along and laugh at me for how I looked or for going slow or whatever and I thought yeah...and he's doing it anyway. That's greatness. It may not be greatness for athletes or for in shape people, but for that kid and many of us like him, just doing it is greatness. It inspired me to take my fat behind for a walk I can guarantee you that. And not worry about what anyone thought of me while I was panting along, either.

sparithson
sparithson

I LOVED this ad when I first saw it a week ago.  This serves as inspiration and motivation to every overweight child out there that thinks their struggle is theirs only.  Bravo Nike for getting real.  People have been screaming for reality in marketing sans Photoshopping and airbrushing.  Well here it is.  

Sarah Roney Dalton
Sarah Roney Dalton

Haven't "they" been exploiting fit people every day of the Olympics? Why not let us fat folks get in on the moolah and the glory, too?

corymann
corymann

OH MY GOODNESS!!!!!! can we just give it a rest. The kids fat and is trying to loose weight and Nike is saying look how hard this kid is trying.. The critics of this add are either in denial or they are just looking for attention. Any idiot can see the message its clear and not offensive. There is no way for Nike to win . My answer is don't feel bad NIKE ,  NO ONE WAS LOVED BY ALL, so we should stop trying and simply become the best person we can. The critics of this ad are absolutely  ridiculous   and if  they were no so  laughable I might actually be angry. I LOVE THE AD and IM FAT!!!!!!! 

Robin Burns
Robin Burns

“we’re all capable of it. All of us.” Really? Nobody has discussed this with my doctors! I'm "ambulatory" which means moving around rather than chair or bed-ridden, but that's about it. Moving more means intolerable pain from past surgeries, disease and genetic orthopedic anomalies. Exercise can do real damage to some of us beyond the pain we feel.  (pain is for a reason) Why shouldn't I and others like me be able to enjoy the life we have, such as it is, without being pressured to move deeper into the world of disability and agony? I applaud this youngster and all those like him who are basically healthy but struggling against the environment of sedentary consumerism and cheap, fattening foods. But no, it isn't "All of us."

johnsmith9875
johnsmith9875

 If Nike's only purpose is to make money, then they have fallen off the tracks, as I'm sure the original person who made the first product wasn't planning a megacorp.

06012011
06012011

I too was "large boned, grammer and high school. Always been big but am 60 and weigh less than 250. Work out 4-6 times a week and keep food and sugar in control. Good Luck to all.....

jayman419
jayman419

This ad is obviously not intended for disabled people, so no one is pressuring you.

You're welcome to be fat. Blame it on your disability or your genes or the fact that you simply choose to be. No one cares if you enjoy your life or not... that's on you. Everyone else is busy trying to enjoy their own lives.

One good thing to come from this, though.... just think of all the calories you're burning by stretching so far to take offense at this.

jayman419
jayman419

 I was skinny, then at 8 I broke my elbow and spent a month in traction. For the rest of elementary school and all of middle school I struggled, first to recover the use of my arm, and then to lose the weight that I'd gained.

Diet is important, but really nothing is more important than just moving your body. Literally anything can work. Walking instead of driving to close destinations is one of the obvious changes that almost anyone can make, and it's the easiest form of exercise to commit to.