I took part in a panel about childhood obesity tonight. It went well and I’ll do a full write-up later, but in the meantime I wanted to re-post this just in case anyone from the event is looking at the blog for follow up.
The first thing to know is that all of the interventions being used for “childhood obesity” are experimental. There is no long term data showing that these interventions lead to more thinner kids, or healthier kids (remember that those are two different things.) The research simply doesn’t exist.
There is definitely evidence that trying to get children to be as weight-obsessed and to see fat bodies as a negative thing is problematic:
Research from the University of Minnesota found that: None of the behaviors being used by adolescents for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain.
A Canadian study found that eating disorders were more prevalent than type 2 diabetes in kids.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that hospitalizations of children younger than 12 years for eating disorders rose by 119% from 1999 to 2006. (Children UNDER 12) There was a 15% increase in hospitalizations for eating disorders in all ages across the same time period.
A new study is looking at the effects of “school based healthy-living programs.” Turns out that these programs are being instituted in lots of schools, despite the fact that, per the researchers, there is little research on the effectiveness of these programs or any inadvertent harmful effects on children’s mental health.
This study found that these programs are actually triggering eating disorders in kids. Dr. Leora Pinhas said “The programs present this idea that weight loss is good, that only thin is healthy…We live in a culture that stigmatizes fat people, and we’ve turned it into this kind of moralistic health thing.”
Well said Dr. Pinhas, well said. But I would say that it goes beyond that. Fat people have been the unwilling, un-consenting victims of experimental medicine for years. Now we are moving the experiment to kids.
Though she has since thankfully backed way off her obesity rhetoric, with her assertion that she was going to eradicate all the fat kids in a generation, despite having not a single intervention shown to lead to long-term weight loss in kids (or adults), Michelle Obama helped to usher in an era wherein anyone who says that they have an idea for eradicating fat kids is taken as seriously as if they had actual research backing their idea.
Kids are being subjected to interventions that were created by rectal pull, no evidence necessary. So when someone said”It makes sense to me that if we have kids starting in elementary school focus on their weight, count calories, and think of exercise as punishment for being fat, then they’ll all be thin” authorities, including health professionals, just went ahead and implemented that intervention in schools across the country.
The problem is that someone’s belief – no matter how sincere – does not an evidence-based public health intervention make. When we consider dart-throwing and rectal pull to be appropriate methods of developing public health initiatives for kids, we open ourselves up to things like what the evidence is uncovering: the interventions don’t work, they have the exact opposite of the intended effect, and they result in dangerous side effects.
We need to demand that kids not be subjected to a ceaseless barrage of experiments in an attempt to manipulate their body sizes in ways that we don’t have any proof are possible or helpful. While we’re at it, we might demand the same standard for ourselves.
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