Junkfood Science: <i>From the recommended reading file:</i> Effects of anti-obesity messages on children

February 04, 2007

From the recommended reading file: Effects of anti-obesity messages on children

The Timesonline just published a thought-provoking article on the unhealthy effects that obesity and “healthy” eating messages are having on young people. Good intentions are not always well-founded or helpful.

Anti-obesity message 'is driving girls to anorexia'

Children are becoming obsessed with calorie-counting and face increased playground bullying about their weight as a result of the Government’s antiobesity campaign, experts said yesterday.

Pupils are overloaded with information about healthy eating, which can lead to a preoccupation with food and fuel the development of eating disorders, according to the specialists....

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the Eating Disorders Association, told The Times that the focus on healthy eating has made life more difficult for many young people. “I am concerned that the emphasis on childhood obesity is having a backlash. We know people who are bullied about their shape are far more likely to develop eating disorders and there is now even more focus on overweight young people,” she said.

Health campaigners have pushed successfully for clearer nutritional labelling on food, but Ms Ringwood argued that for those vulnerable to eating problems, the prevalence of information on calories and fat content is unhelpful. “Even things intended to be helpful, such as traffic lights for high-fat foods, play into the hands of people who are obsessed about eating. It gives them more to obsess about.”...

David Wood, consultant psy-chiatrist at the Ellern Mede Centre, a residential unit for children with eating disorders in North London, argued that there was a “cultural anxiety” about obesity which young people could latch on to. He also suggested that the pro-health message might have gone too far. “There are some important details about healthy eating that we should recognise but most of us, as long as we eat a balanced diet, can actually manage quite a few McDonald’s if we choose,” he said.

“There is a moralistic tone to the healthy eating agenda — but also about consumption more generally — which suggests that if you give in to ‘base’ desires such as eating chocolate and cream you are somehow weak.”...

Bookmark and Share