Junkfood Science: Government health officials decide it’s acceptable to bully fat children

January 17, 2009

Government health officials decide it’s acceptable to bully fat children

A sickening development of the Department of Health’s Change4Life campaign to eradicate obesity and create a "lifestyle revolution" occurred this week. When public health officials learned that this misguided campaign was, not surprisingly, resulting in children being bullied, they decided that it was okay for the fat children to be bullied...

We thought it couldn’t get any worse than government health officials ignoring science, the evidence, and their own health statistics, and embracing reports of fabricated predictions and compilations of opinion polls. Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health is Sir Liam Donaldson, the one who described the “obesity timebomb” facing the UK, and obesity as the new cancer.

We’ve watched as unimaginable tens of millions of dollars have been directed from critically needed medical services and spent on this campaign. Last week, the Telegraph reported, from figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that $132,000 (U.S. dollars) had been spent on celebrities for five media spots. Melinda Messenger, for instance, had posed for pictures for the £500,000 [$736,500 U.S. dollars] campaign to promote eating five portions of fruits and veggies a day.

There is no evidence to suggest that their 5-a-Day campaign will work any better than the U.S. government campaign that has tried for 15 years, included 700 organizations across the country and retailers for 30,000 national supermarkets, and had been budgeted $65 million last year, alone. After 15 years of intense efforts, it proved a complete failure.

We thought the Change4Life campaign couldn’t get worse than the threats; than teaching that fat bodies are made of vile blobs of fat; than the scare campaign showing gory internal organs oozing with fat to create disgust and stigma of fat people; or targeting fat children in communities and shipping them off to fat camps.

Today, media reported that the “DoH changes anti-obesity campaign after bullying complaints.” The Change4Life campaign messages had [incorrectly] claimed that obesity leads to diabetes and was causing great distress to families living with type 1 diabetes, especially children, according to Karen Addington, chief executive of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. “We have heard from many parents of children with type-1 diabetes whose children have been very upset by the advertising and who have been singled out, and even bullied, at school,” she said.

As a result, the Department of Health has decided to revise the advertisements for its anti-obesity campaign to say that obesity leads to type 2 diabetes. As Liverpool Echo explains:

Kids bullied in diabetes drive

A TV advertising campaign to get people leading healthier lives has resulted in children with diabetes being bullied, says a top diabetes charity… Karen Addington, chief executive of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, said: “…Type 1 diabetes happens because a child’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin… It is not linked to lifestyle factors like weight or exercise. There is nothing that children with type 1 diabetes, or their parents, could have done to prevent their condition, and there is currently no cure. This is why JDRF invests millions of pounds each year into medical research to find the cure for type 1 diabetes and its complications.”

So, the government Department of Health thinks it is okay for children with type 2 diabetes to be bullied — type 2 diabetes is popularly assumed to be associated with fat kids, not thin ones, and to be their own fault.

These are public health professionals intentionally continuing a cruel campaign that they know is hurting children. These are public health professionals who are spreading health information that they should know is false. Spreading misinformation about children's weight, as well as diabetes in children, perpetuates insensitive condemnation and stigma of fat children.

All children with diabetes, regardless of the type, deserve the same compassion and understanding from informed health professionals and school officials. Rightly, people would never think to blame thin children with type 1 diabetes for their condition, as it’s widely recognized that this form is from an immune disorder resulting in damage to their pancreas and can run in families.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is falsely perceived by the public, and uneducated health officials, to be a person’s fault for eating sugar and junk food, having a sedentary lifestyle and being fat — when, in fact, type 2 diabetes has significantly stronger genetic roots. Several other forms of non-insulin dependent diabetes can be due to traumas and other syndromes, also beyond a child’s control.

A fact rarely reported in popular media is that Type 2 diabetes is strongly genetic, considerably more so than type 1.

Among identical twins, concordance rates are nearly 100% for abnormal glucose metabolism and have been estimated as high as 70-90% for type 2 diabetes. [To put the heritability of diabetes into perspective, 60-80% of human height is attributed to genetics.]

Diabetes is not a single disease and not only are there multiple types, but each category finds children who are fat and thin. Weight gain, however, is more often a symptom of type 2 diabetes, a result of the disease, not the cause. But fat children, including those with diabetes, have no advocacy groups speaking out for them.

Sadly, people still think a fat child with diabetes has brought the condition on himself by eating sweets or junk and not exercising. “In this day and age, I still get patients who believe that they developed diabetes from eating too much sugar,” said Dr. Gerald Bernstein, M.D., of New York City and former director of the Beth Israel Health Care Systems Diabetes Management Program. “Bad eating habits such as too much refined sugars, empty carbohydrates and fructose do not cause diabetes.”

How many more examples of waste, misinformation, stigma and harm does there have to be before the public, parents, healthcare professionals and child advocates work to put a stop to this campaign and create their own “lifestyle revolution” — a healthier and kinder one?

How to contact the Department of Health

Customer Service Centre

The Department of Health

Richmond House

79 Whitehall

London SW1A 2NS

Phone: 020 7210 4850

Lines are open from 08:30 to 17:00, Monday to Friday excluding bank holidays.

Email address: dhmail@dh.gsi.gov.uk

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