As children around the world have gotten fatter, adults have watched with concern. And sometimes acted on their worry by launching school-based programs that have concerned eating disorder professionals even more. Programs such as sending home ‘weight report cards,’ banning ‘junk food’ in cafeterias and even classroom birthday parties, limiting vending machines in school, and launching campaigns emphasizing the dangers of excess weight. The problem? Not only do these efforts likely not work, they may inadvertently cause kids to focus inappropriately on weight and shape and begin unhealthy weight control practices.
The reason for concern among eating disorder professionals is based on a large body of evidence that shows an emphasis on appearance or weight control can foster disordered eating. Example:
- When peers or parents make it clear that being thin is their preference, and encourage dieting or other practices whose sole aim is weight control, body dissatisfaction, dieting, low self-esteem and weight bias is the result among children and adolescents.
- What’s more, weight control practices reliably predict greater weight gain than that of adolescents who do not engage in such practices.
So how are we supposed to help our children stay healthy? The same way that’s recommended for adults. Focus on health, not weight.
To help schools and communities who want to really help their children, the Academy for Eating Disorders has just issued guidelines for childhood obesity prevention programs. The guidelines make a number of important points that anyone working to establish effective childhood obesity prevention programs should consider. They describe the ideal program: “…an integrated approach that addresses risk factors for the spectrum of weight-related problems, including screening for unhealthy weight control behaviors; and promotes protective behaviors such as decreasing dieting, increasing balanced nutrition, encouraging mindful eating, increasing activity, promoting positive body image and decreasing weight-related teasing and harassment.”
Take the time to read the whole document; it’s important.
While we’re talking about studies, a word about the latest diet study that ‘showed’ calories, not carbs, fat, or protein content, is what matters when it comes to losing weight. Headlines were abuzz with the ‘news,’ but somehow failed to mention the fact that all the study participants were slowly regaining lost weight, regardless of the type of diet they had followed. My point is obvious (I hope): I agree that carbs, fat, protein, etc., is not an accurate predictor of healthy weights. But then again, neither are diets. Healthy lifestyles are, and accepting the fact that there is a wide range of healthy weights that goes beyond that generally accepted.