Junkfood Science: Voices of sanity... for the children

January 19, 2008

Voices of sanity... for the children

A calm article calling for balance, reason and an end to the hysteria over obesity is something you rarely see in media anymore. That makes it all the more valuable for its fresh perspectives. Sharon Kirkey writes in the Edmonton Journal of the adverse effects of today’s unhealthy obsessions with weight being seen by pediatric psychiatric specialists.

Obesity worries show signs of backfiring

...Fears about obesity are feeding “fat phobia," experts warn. They're worried more healthy kids are obsessing about weight — and more parents are projecting irrational fears about fat on their children.

Some question whether the obesity “epidemic" is even real, and whether schools have any business trying to fight obesity. “It seems like whenever we decide there is an epidemic people run around helter skelter trying to solve the problem without really thinking about it in an organized fashion," says Dr. Leora Pinhas, a child psychiatrist and psychiatric director of the eating disorders program at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.

“I'm not convinced that telling kids that they're fat, or that they might get fat, is a way of solving the problem." The hospital has seen preteens and teens who attended obesity-prevention programs at school. They then “decide they're going to be the best kid at not getting fat, (and) then end up losing so much weight that they put themselves medically at risk," Pinhas says.... “We have had kids who have been weighed in the gym and then had to deal with how they felt about their weight, and these may have been kids who never weighed themselves before and it hadn't been a concern before," Pinhas says.

Children are being taught in nutrition classes how to cut all fat from their diet... “All we seem to do is keep placing more unreasonable expectations on children that can be confusing for them." Children are hearing that fat is bad. Period. And where anorexia and bulimia before adolescence was once unheard of, hospitals are now seeing eating disorders in children as young as seven.

Dr. Ahmed Boachie [clinical director of the eating disorders program at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket and assistant professor of psychiatry at Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto] said that “even campaigns to rid schools of snacks can lead to negative messages and neurosis about food.” But these specialists point out that weight and fat obsessions are not just bombarding young people in school. A lot of the pressure to be thin now comes from home, said Susan Willard, clinical director of the eating disorders treatment centre at River Oaks Hospital in New Orleans. And it surrounds kids everywhere, Dr. Pinhas added.

“How many times does a kid have to overhear a conversation like, ‘Wow, you look great, you lost weight,' or ‘Look at my butt, it's really fat, I should cut down on what I'm eating,' or ‘All that fat is going to give you a heart attack?'”...

“It's not infrequent that we see patients who have families who are over-invested in body shape and weight," says Willard... In these families, calorie counting, fat-gram counting and exercise "become a primary focus in the home and at the table. “Kids who grow up in families of that sort believe that it is of very primary importance that they ‘eat right' and stay fit and healthy, and that ultimately can turn out to be extremely unhealthy," says Willard...

But parents also live in a culture that says what matters most is to be thin. “They're being told over and over again that if their kid is fat, it's like a death sentence. They're being told they're not good parents," Pinhas says. “I think we should stop worrying about whether someone is fat or not because it's not necessarily an indicator of poor lifestyle or imminent mortality or morbidity."

The article goes on to explain how concerns over ‘healthy’ eating and weight invariably lead to dieting which is the biggest risk factor for eating disorders, health problems, and lifetimes of food fears, body angst and trying to control eating.

It is well worth reading in its entirety [link in title].

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