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Are anti-obesity programs causing eating disorders in kids?

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With one in every five children classifying as obese, the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States is no secret. The rise in this health crisis has birthed a multitude of anti-obesity campaigns and programs aimed at educating parents and children about healthier lifestyles. The goal of these programs – be it healthier meals in schools or the increasingly popular Let’s Move initiative led by Michelle Obama – are obviously well intentioned but are they working?

Many parents think that some of these programs are actually having an adverse effect. Part of the concern is that many of these programs have an emphasis on not being overweight as opposed to a focus on teaching a child how to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle that emphasized the importance of both nutrition and exercise.

New research out from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan explored this deeper and found that of the parents surveyed, 82% of parents reported at least one anti-obesity campaign in their children’s school. Programs include incentives for physical activity, limiting access/availability to junkfood, nutrition education, weight vs height measurements and more. While this type of information is important to know, apparently the current presentation and execution of many of these initiatives seems to be flawed. One third of parents who reported anti-obesity programs in schools also reported worrisome and red-flag behavior in their children, such as obsessing over fat content in foods, intense need to read food labels prior to eating, and unhealthy diet habits among others. While the survey doesn’t link the anti-obesity movement with eating disorders, it does raise questions about how effective these programs actually are. There is no denying that keeping kids from packing on extra pounds is critical to a child’s health (and the health of the country).

How can programs get the best message across? Focus on inspiring healthy habits than on the actual weight. Researchers don’t believe that these programs cause eating disorders but there is belief that they cause unhealthy anxiety and pressure about food and eating – especially in kids who are frail when it comes to criticism. That being said, anti-obesity programs shouldn’t be done away with. Parents taking action are the first step. Eating habits are established long before a child enters school and it is up to the parent to express that food isn’t an enemy and is necessary to fuel the body. They also need positive health role models as opposed to a verbal litany about why obesity is dangerous. Simply by eating balanced diets, participating in physical activity and grabbing a healthy snack over chips, parents can send a much louder and effective message.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Daniel Ruiz says:

    “While the survey doesn’t link the anti-obesity movement with eating disorders”

    So basically lazy parents are mad because schools are teaching children that while processed/packaged are quick and easy to make they are horrible for you. Reading labels and worrying about the nutritional value of food is something every good parent should do. I can’t stand “parents” like this. They complain they have no time to cook healthy meals yet can spend hours in front of the television, playing video games or gossiping with their friends on the phone. They claim they can’t afford healthy/fresh food put magically have money to out or to buy materialistic garbage.

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