Junkfood Science: Sunday morning papers — an exercise in critical reading

December 28, 2008

Sunday morning papers — an exercise in critical reading

At first glance, readers may have thought that a government program had been shown to prevent childhood obesity. Today’s newspaper headline read: “Scheme to prevent child obesity hailed a success.”

According to the Northern Echo, the National Health Service for County Durham and Darlington Primary Care Trust are offering a 12-week program for children 8 to 11 years of age and their parents, called Junior One Life. It is said to be aimed at tackling “the growing problem of childhood obesity.” The scheme was reported to have been piloted last year and teaches “healthy eating” and fun activity.

The Darlington NHS webpage described the program’s goals for families “to change their attitude to food and activity.” The pilot scheme was conducted last September at Longfield Comprehensive Elementary and the NHS reported last year that if it was a success, they hoped to roll it out across the whole of Darlington.

It would appear to have been a success, right?

If so, it would be the first proven weight management program on earth to prevent child obesity with a healthy eating and activity scheme, let alone in just 12 weeks. That’s because, as the science has shown time and again, the natural diversity of sizes in children is not caused by food or activity. The UK’s own Health Survey for England data for the past decade has also shown no significant change in child obesity rates and children have grown taller as they’ve grown healthier. That begs the question of whether this program is really about child obesity or about telling families how the government thinks they should eat and live?

As it turns out, the Junior One Life program has not been shown to be a success at all. In fact, the NHS hasn’t even begun to evaluate it.

According to the NHS Darlington PCT Board Meeting minutes from last month, evidence-based interventions to address childhood obesity are still being developed. They are being finalized before being evaluated: “Evaluation of Junior One Life to inform development of group based intervention programmes in all areas to be in place in 2009/10.”

Evidence-based means having the evidence before a health intervention is implemented on children, not after the fact.

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