Junkfood Science: News too troubling to stomach

April 13, 2007

News too troubling to stomach

This news is so disturbing that I waited until it was confirmed in several reports before sharing it. Last Saturday, we looked at the popularity of exploiting and mocking fat children for entertainment on reality show fat camps, with an especially surreal and potentially harmful example being set by an upcoming show featuring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as camp counselors. But there’s more...

As was reported this week by Australian and New Zealand press, the first stunt conducted by these two on the first episode was to administer enemas to the campers, outside, in front of television cameras. These starlets were “more than happy” to talk to the press about what they did. Both they and the show’s producers appeared oblivous to the unimaginable degrees of humiliation they subjected these fat campers to, let alone how they endangered their health. As reported:

“We gave the campers enemas," Richie told Reuters yesterday... “We did it outside, so that was a lot of fun. It probably wasn't that fun for (the campers), but it was definitely interesting...”

A spokesman for 20th Century Fox Television said the girls perform the enemas at the “wellness camp" because "the first step in wellness is cleaning yourself out."

“You'll see it on camera," the spokesman, Chris Alexander, said yesterday. “It's probably a 10-minute sequence, which according to the producer of the show will have you on the floor laughing."

Our society has reached the point where fat prejudice condones this degree of abuse and even finds it funny. It is bad enough that these fat campers, like the other fat adults and teens exploited on other “documentaries” this past week, have been led to believe their weight is the result of their bad behaviors, “addictions” or “issues” with food, and that to have a chance at being accepted and living a healthy, happy life they must lose weight at all costs (especially if it benefits the sponsors). But it is more than insane to hold these underweight, troubled girls up as examples of healthy eating for young viewers to emulate. Worse, for this show to teach dangerous, unhealthful tactics to lose weight used by bulimics will cause countless numbers of already weight-conscious young kids irreparable harm.

Using laxatives and enemas is one of the most destructive, and potentially fatal, practices undertaken by bulimics and those with eating disorders as they try to avoid absorbing calories (and nutrients) in food to lose weight. Enemas have also long been a popular quack cure among alternative practitioners who claim they have a role in “wellness,” as this show’s producers believe.

There is no scientific evidence that enemas or colonic therapies are in any way effective for treating any disease or cancer, or that they promote health. There is, however, considerable evidence for dangers and documented harms resulting from enemas, including infections, perforations, fluid and electrolyte imbalances, shock, heart failure and deaths. Articles with medical expert statements on the science and quackery surrounding enemas are at Evidence-Based Medicine First. Not to make this entire post about the pseudoscience surrounding poo, but some basic evidence-based information on enemas is important to note:

Holistic practitioners believe the colon is a sewage system and if it's not kept clean, waste products won't be cleared out and toxic substances will be absorbed into the body. They believe that the typical person may have as many as several pounds of fecal matter in their colon, which causes mucus to build up and harden on colon walls. Science says this is not true. Your colon knows how to do its job, constantly shedding old cells, absorbing nutrients and keeping a delicate balance of bacteria and natural chemicals. Interfering with this process can hurt or destroy these relationships, meaning the colon won't work as well as it should. Colon cleansing is unnecessary, and medical doctors do not advise you to do this.

After a death and four serious injuries involving patients with perforated colons occurred in 2003 from the use of colonic enemas by nonmedical clinics and alternative practitioners, the Texas Attorney General filed six lawsuits. In a public statement he noted that people may not be aware of the serious health risks involved. The suits also cited violations of deceptive trade practices for fraudulently claiming they were treatments for "general well-being" and for "re-energizing life."

Colonic quackery and its various guises were explored in an issue of the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, concluding:

Today we are witnessing a resurgence of colonic irrigation based on little less than the old bogus claims and the impressive power of vested interests. Even today's experts on colonic irrigation can only provide theories and anecdotes in its support. It seems, therefore, that ignorance is celebrating a triumph over science.

Enemas are not only enjoying a resurgence in popularity among alternative healers, but the use of enemas and other dangerous means to try and control weight is growing among young people troubled by weight concerns and eating disorders. Parents and healthcare professionals, friends and family members need to be alert to the dangers. A simple handout on enemas and laxatives to share with a young person is offered by the Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. It sorts out fact from fiction, reveals the dangers and offers help for breaking the habit.

Now, as far as this camp reality show and others like it, I don’t know why lawyers and civil rights organizations aren’t all over these things (substitute black or crippled children for the fat campers and the public outcries would be swift and loud); why anyone would even consider allowing their loved one to be victimized and ridiculed in this way; or why anyone would watch. And that reveals the most troubling aspect of all.

© 2007 Sandy Szwarc

The Simple Life is broadcast on E! Television. This premier episode scheduled for Memorial Day, May 28th.
Published news reports incorrectly said E! was a joint venture of Comcast Corporation and the Walt Disney Company. According to Mr. Jonathan Friedman, of Disney Corporate Communications, Disney sold its stake in E! Television and it is now owned 100% by Comcast Corporation.

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