‘Fat-shaming’ apps slammed for harming kids

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Apps like Fatify are drawing fire for making light of the obesity epidemic. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

While overweight kids have long been prime targets for bullies, activists are calling out smartphone apps that make anyone look fat.

“Applications such as “Fatify,” “Fatbooth,” “Fat You” and others greatly perpetuate fat-shaming and weight bias in today’s society,” said Joe Nadglowski, president and CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition, in a press release about his organizations campaign against these apps. “Children are the primary users of these types of apps, and the apps are teaching children that the disease of obesity is a funny cosmetic issue, which we know is not true.”

The apps in question, most available for free with in-app purchases, take your picture and pack on the pounds. The “fat version” of your pic — adding double chins and chipmunklike chubby cheeks — can then be shared and posted online.

All of these iOS apps are approved in iTunes for use by minors. While competing app stores are like the Wild West – with little policing or curating of the content – Apple’s iTunes Store has long billed itself as a clean, appropriate place for the whole family. Since the great porn purge of 2010, Apple’s walled garden has blocked most of the sleaze, leaving a well-manicured lawn of Flappy Bird clones and productivity apps as far as the eye can see. Yet there’s a dark side to the App Store — sex apps, drinking games and other questionable divertissements that are easily accessible to minors age 17 and under. Apple did not comment when asked how hundreds of these apps are still in the store.

To combat these “fattening” apps The Obesity Action Coalition, a national organization with nearly 50,000 members, wrote letters to the leaders of Apple, Amazon.com, Google and Microsoft urging them to shed these apps from their stores. We have reached out to developers of the apps named in the press release but at this writing haven’t heard back.

This isn’t the first time that innocent-seeming apps have been called out. Even health apps like calorie counters and body mass index calculators have come under fire as aggravating eating disorders. Would the OAC have all of these apps removed, too?

“The OAC sees something like a BMI calculator, when used correctly, as a helpful tool for those wanting to keep track of their weight or weight-loss,” James Zervios, director of communications at Obesity Action Coalition, told Cult of Mac. “We’re targeting these [Fatify-type] apps because they have no educational value.”

The group escalated things with the app stores and added an online petition after a developer defended one app as intended for entertainment purposes only.

“We would never see an app like this approved for any other disease, so why is targeting obesity OK?” asked Zervios, an iPhone user who said his most-used apps include Fooducate. “We know children are the primary users of these apps, which also makes the need for removing them even greater.”

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Nicole MartinelliNicole Martinelli heads up Cult of Mac Magazine, our weekly publication available on iTunes. You can find her on Twitter and Google+. If you're doing something new, cool and Apple-related, email her.

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