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Do Healthy Child Initiatives Promote Eating Disorders?

lets move campaign, childhood obesity

Will healthier school lunches put these girls at risk for eating disorders?

Over at TIME, a father of three and doctor worries that healthy eating initiatives may have the unintended consequence of promoting eating disorders.

Anthony D. DeBenedet argues that while there’s no evidence that initiatives like First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign actually produces healthier, normal weight kids, a recent study does show that a small percent of children and parents have weight on their mind. He acknowledges there’s no clear link between the two, but that children are vulnerable to disordered eating.

DeBenedet argues that the blanket application of “Let’s Move” and other anti-obesity campaigns could be the problem. He writes in TIME:

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 17% of all children and adolescents in the U.S. are obese. Yet the majority of obesity programming, especially in our schools, is applied to the child and adolescent populations as a whole. Sure, promoting healthy eating, regardless of one’s weight or age, seems like a positive thing on the surface. But here’s the potential downside: We know kids and teens react differently than adults to external pressures like persistent messaging. Sometimes these pressures can translate into incredible waves of anxiety and fear. At the extreme, a healthy-weight youth could be pushed to monitor his weight more frequently or even begin an unsupervised diet — behaviors that might represent an impending eating disorder.

I think DeBenedet’s worries about broad healthy eating campaigns is misplaced. It’s exactly those that cover entire groups, rather than singling out individuals, that have a better chance of not promoting disordered eating. I’d like to see initiatives that don’t focus on obesity and weight in general and, instead, promote healthy food, water and regular physical activity for everyone — fat and skinny, child and adult. Better school lunches, fewer subsidies for sugar and corn, and regular affordable access to doctors are all steps our society can take to improve overall health of our communities, without thinking we’re going to create an entire generation of bulimics for example.

The problem with how we approach health lately is that we’re focused almost exclusively on weight and BMIs and never, on other indicators of general overall health (because  scales are cheap and health insurance for all appears to be unattainable).

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