Junkfood Science: Teachers, leave my kids alone! — A mother says all parents need to pull their kids out of anti-science classes

May 01, 2008

Teachers, leave my kids alone! — A mother says all parents need to pull their kids out of anti-science classes

A mother has finally had it with misguided “health” and “nutrition” classes in school and scouting programs, and their anti-obesity and “healthy eating” lessons. They aren’t about health or nutrition and are harming young people, putting them at risk for disordered eating, along with heightening self-consciousness about their bodies. She is calling for ALL parents to pull their kids out of these anti-scientific lessons for the sake of all children.

Laura Collins, the mother of an anorectic child, writes:

How "healthy" is Health Class?

It used to be "sex ed" that worried parents, but among parents of kids who have suffered with disordered eating, it is "Health" class that scares us. Many children start dieting, restricting food groups, and moralizing about food and fat after misguided "Nutrition" classes in our age of obesity hysteria. They show "Super Size Me" and assign "Fast Food Nation" to teens already so self-conscious about their appearances they they'd sell their souls and their siblings to achieve an appearance they think their peers will find pleasing.

My son just brought home a sheet from Cub Scouts asking him to track everything he eats and each item's calorie count, something we consider a disordered eating behavior around here. (We won't be doing it. Calls will be made.)... My son says "all my teachers talk about calories all the time and getting fat."

Parents of kids with eating disorders often have their children pulled out of health classes, body fat testing, BMI checks, and other "triggering" experiences. I think this isn't enough. We ALL need to pull our kids from these anti-scientific lessons for the sake of all children.

There is no evidence that the kids who take these messages to heart are in need of them in the first place. There is no evidence that these "classes" change weights or behaviors in the long run - except in precipitating unhealthy dieting behaviors. "Do no harm" should apply to education, too.

Overwhelming and consistent evidence continues to show these school nutrition policy initiatives and the CDC’s “Guidelines to promote lifelong healthy eating and physical activity” being enacted in schools cross the country do not improve children’s diet’s, activity levels or health outcomes, or reduce obesity levels. Similar conclusions were reached by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the Institutes of Medicine after reviewing 6,900 studies. Even the government’s own statistics negate the need for this focus, as there have been no significant increases in the numbers of children considered “overweight” since 1999-2000 and children are healthier, their diets better, and the CDC expects today’s children to live longer than at any other time in our history. [All of the published reports we've covered here extensively.]

Yet, the evidence has not quelled the obesity hysteria, even as evidence builds showing that these well-meaning anti-obesity initiatives are harming children. Like her son, children get lessons on calorie counting, “healthy” foods, and scares about obesity and “bad” foods in virtually every class during their school days, as well as in gym, during recess and in the lunch room. The unhealthy and unsound “healthy eating” and anti-obesity lessons children are being taught in health and nutrition classes are heightened by what’s pumped into their homerooms on Channel One and even into computer games distributed through Scholastic, Inc.

Dr. Jennifer O’Dea, M.P.H, Ph.D., an international child nutrition and eating disorder expert at the University of Sydney in Australia, examined beliefs and attitudes about obesity among university physical education and home economics majors and found “a great deal of misinformation being conveyed,” with nearly 90% advocating unsound weight loss advice and demonstrating a lack of nutritional education about weight control, adolescent nutritional needs, eating disorders and fad diets. Most concerning was the high prevalence of eating disorders and dangerous weight control methods she’s found among teachers themselves, who risk transferring their own disorders to the young students in their classrooms.

As JFS has examined previously, her research has also found that, as intuitively correct as positive nutritional message might seem, they are not benign. Increasingly, childhood weight and eating experts are cautioning that nutrition rules are beyond children’s understanding and do not consider children’s mental and emotional development. Children cannot grasp the complexities of dietary guidelines, which most adults don’t even comprehend. The messages children take away are largely negative, with “healthy” food seen as ‘good’ and food they’re told to eat in moderation as being “bad.” Health education messages since the 1970s have resulted in an exponential rise in disordered eating and most young people have come to mistakenly believe that what is actually dieting is eating “healthy.” Children are also being made to fear getting fat and told it will give them all sorts of horrible health problems and that bad foods and slovenly behaviors will make them fat. Guilt among the naturally fat children is coupled with growing blame and prejudice directed towards them.

Young people cannot escape the intensity of these obsessions even after school.

As Laura’s found, scouting programs now encourage young scouts to earn badges in “healthy eating.” The Scouting Association recently revamped its badge program and added 40 new badges. In response to childhood obesity, the youngest Beaver cub scouts, 5-8 years old, can now earn a badge for healthy eating after cooking a fruit salad and “listing some unhealthy foods.” Rather than help kids enjoy all foods and just be kids, they’re led to think they need to worry about food and their bodies and health, and to believe in good-bad foods, engage in restrictive eating behaviors, to fear adult diseases, and to limit and fear many of the foods that growing bodies need, such as fats, meats, milk, and sugars and carbohydrates. Eating and exercise become all about avoiding getting fat.

Last week, for example, Cedar City Boy Scouts earned their healthy eating merit badges by going to an activity given by students from a Hotel, Resort and Hospitality Management class where they learned about “healthy eating” and how to choose “good” foods to avoid obesity. As one 8-year old scout said: “The food groups are important so you can make good choices, so you don’t get fat and that you eat healthy.”

Little girls from kindergarten and first grade on can earn badges through “Shape UP!” According to the Missouri Girl Scouts Council, this 2-3 hour “wellness program” focuses on rewarding girls for “healthy eating and physical activity” to enable them to work towards earning the ‘shape-up patch.’

The Fort Knox, Kentucky, girl scouts publishes a nutrition guide for scout leaders, which begins with important information about the growing and significant problem of eating disorders in young teens in which 13% are engaging in dangerous and unhealthful efforts to keep from gaining weight. Then, in another example of cognitive disconnect, it goes directly into misinformation about how eating fruits and vegetables, grains and low-fat foods are important because they supposedly lower risk of dying from cancer, heart disease or stokes. Only a quarter of teen girls eat enough fruits and vegetables, it says, so it has teamed up with the Florida Citrus Growers to teach girls 9-14 years old the importance of healthy food choices. Along with GirlSports, another major initiative is designed to increase participation in sports to “promote life-long habits with a healthy focus on diet, nutrition and exercise.”

It says that girl scouts can earn other nutrition-related awards such as: Eat Right, Stay Healthy, Healthy Habits, Make It, Eat It, Food, Fiber and Farming, Food Power, The Food Connection, Exploring Healthy Eating, and Health and Fitness.

Scouting lessons aren’t just given by adults. Junior girl scouts has a program where fifth graders teach nutrition to younger kids, to earn their own health and fitness badges. Begun as a pilot study program by dietitians in Cleveland, Ohio, it’s even been adopted as the “Healthy Eating Ambassador Programme” around the world and commended as part of the Hong Kong government's initiatives to address obesity.

As Laura says, parents need to stand up and say “Enough!”

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