The city's latest public health campaign warning against diabetes features a photo of an overweight amputee — but an ad agency, not the disease, was to blame for the man's missing leg.
The man's photo was digitally altered to make it appear that his right leg is missing below the knee, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The original photo, taken by photographer Morten Smidt, shows a man with all his limbs sitting on a stool.
Smidt took the photo in 2008 and sold it to the stock photo agency Image Source, which then sold it to the ad agency.
"They altered the image," Smidt said.
Smidt says he never knew the man's name. Image Source, which provides a variety of photos for use in advertising and other projects, told the Times it cannot divulge it. The Times put out a call in its City Room blog for the man in the photo to come forward.
The health department said the ad agency it used was DCS, which is based in Brazil. DCS didn't immediately reply to an email request seeking comment Wednesday.
A subway poster with the doctored photo warns that growing food portion sizes can lead to diabetes, which is characterized by high blood sugar levels and can result in poor circulation, difficult-to-treat infections or sores and slow healing.
"Portions have grown," the poster reads. "So has Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to amputations."
A graphic shows the upward trajectory of soft drink servings.
New York residents have grown accustomed to ads scaring them out of bad habits such as smoking and overeating. A series of sobering TV commercials that started airing in 2006 featured cancer survivor Ronaldo Martinez, who speaks with an artificial voice box because his larynx was removed.
The city's Department of Health says the diabetes poster similarly highlights a serious health issue — even if it's not a testimonial from a real person like Martinez.
"Sometimes we use individuals who are suffering from the particular disease, other times we have to use actors," department spokesman John Kelly said. "We might stop using actors in our ads if the food industry stops using actors in theirs."
The American Beverage Association, which opposes the city's efforts to reduce consumption of sweetened soft drinks and fast food, is crying foul.
"Clearly, the straight facts don't support their singular attacks on our products, so they keep falling back on distortions and scare tactics that are over the top," association spokesman Chris Gindlesperger said in a statement. "That's disappointing."
While some diabetes patients need to undergo amputations, new research shows a steep drop in limbs lost to the disease. The rate has fallen by more than half since the mid-1990s, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published Tuesday in the medical journal Diabetes Care.
The city's health department says nearly 3,000 residents with diabetes were hospitalized for amputations in 2006, the most recent year for which numbers were available.