Monday, February 05, 2007

British Anti-obesity message 'is driving girls to anorexia'

Focus on food 'leads to bullying'; Health policy may have gone too far

Children are becoming obsessed with calorie-counting and face increased playground bullying about their weight as a result of the Government’s antiobesity campaign, experts said yesterday. Pupils are overloaded with information about healthy eating, which can lead to a preoccupation with food and fuel the development of eating disorders, according to the specialists.

Ministers have raised the spectre of an increasingly unhealthy society, citing the statistic that more than 13 per cent of British children are already obese and promising millions of pounds for nutritious school meals and cooking lessons. Obese children have been put on the child protection register, and the Department of Health has attempted to weigh every primary school child in England to assess the scale of the problem.

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of the Eating Disorders Association, told The Times that the focus on healthy eating has made life more difficult for many young people. “I am concerned that the emphasis on childhood obesity is having a backlash. We know people who are bullied about their shape are far more likely to develop eating disorders and there is now even more focus on overweight young people,” she said.

Health campaigners have pushed successfully for clearer nutritional labelling on food, but Ms Ringwood argued that for those vulnerable to eating problems, the prevalence of information on calories and fat content is unhelpful.

“Even things intended to be helpful, such as traffic lights for high-fat foods, play into the hands of people who are obsessed about eating. It gives them more to obsess about.”

She wants ministers to broaden their message to address the emotional relationship people have with food. “I can see why the Government had to go for a broad brush approach at first, but nothing so far has touched on the emotional aspects of eating,” she said.

“It’s all very well being able to count calories, but eating is an emotional experience too. As well as the advice on eating five fruit and vegetables a day, we should be helping people understand how food makes us feel. It is not just fuel.”

David Wood, consultant psychiatrist at the Ellern Mede Centre, a residential unit for children with eating disorders in North London, argued that there was a “cultural anxiety” about obesity which young people could latch on to. He also suggested that the pro-health message might have gone too far. “There are some important details about healthy eating that we should recognise but most of us, as long as we eat a balanced diet, can actually manage quite a few McDonald’s if we choose,” he said.

“There is a moralistic tone to the healthy eating agenda — but also about consumption more generally — which suggests that if you give in to ‘base’ desires such as eating chocolate and cream you are somehow weak.”

The focus on food, he argued, was part of a trend. He said: “It is about living in a highly-developed consumer society, where there is too much of everything, so that if you can restrain yourself are a superior being. And anorexia is all about self-regulation, and so its sufferers latch on to this message.”


'Everyone our age thinks they eat badly'

For the inpatients at Rhodes Farm, a specialist residential centre in North London for children with eating disorders, the Government's constant mantra of obesity epidemics, nutritious school meals and five-a-day is weighing heavily on some very slight shoulders. "When I first started to lose weight, it was because I thought I ate unhealthily," says 17-year-old Helen. "Everyone our age thinks that they are eating unhealthily because they have chocolate. You're told no fat, no sugar...Then when you come here and you are made to eat it's even harder, because it goes against all the messages."

Claire, who at 12 is among the youngest of the 19 girls and one boy currently at the centre, agrees. "More and more people cut foods out - they think you can't eat things that are perfectly normal to have."

Dee Dawson, the medical director of Rhodes Farm, argues that the current healthy eating drive needs to be steered away from children. "A lot of the propaganda leads you to believe that if you keep cutting down you will keep getting healthier," she says. "I never hear about a bottom line, below which cutting down is a bad thing." She also worries that low-fat diets have become the ideal, rather than balanced eating, plus exercise. "Children need fat. If they run around and exercise, as they should, they burn a lot of calories.

"It's almost impossible these days for a child to get through school without her feeling like she should be dieting or eating something special. They have mums who jog and worry about carbs, Jamie Oliver telling them not to do things, notes home saying they shouldn't bring certain things in packed lunches, vending machines being taken out of schools. A child should not even be thinking about their diet, their weight."

She says that for boys and younger girls, "size zero" was not an issue. "Anorexic boys are usually athletes, who see thinness as the way to be successful and go too far. Girls at 12 don't want to look like Victoria Beckham - they' re too young. That becomes an issue when they get older and start to develop. And let's get things in proportion; these children have huge other problems too."


Greenie propaganda to be part of the British geography syllabus

Teenagers will learn about the threat to the environment from climate change and what they can do about it, under reforms to geography teaching. They will be encouraged to recycle consumer goods and to question whether they really need another imported pair of trainers. Other topics to be studied include the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, said: “With rising sea temperatures, melting ice-caps and frequent reminders about our carbon footprints, we should all be thinking about what we can do to preserve the planet. Children are the key to changing society’s attitudes to the environment. Not only are they passionate about saving the planet but children also have a big influence over their own families’ lifestyles.”

In a parallel move, the Department for Education announced that it would send a copy of Al Gore’s film on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth, to every secondary school.

The reforms, to be published next week by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, follow criticism by scientists of the way schools have addressed issues such as climate change. Last month the Royal Society of Chemistry said that textbooks were out of date and that lessons had “omissions, simplifications and misrepresentations”. The changes, part of a review of the curriculum for pupils aged 11 to 14, were welcomed by Rita Gardner, director of the Royal Geographical Society.


Brits flocking to the anti-immigration British National Party: "Success breeds success and we have enjoyed a great deal of success over the last 12 months! Election triumphs and legal victories have helped raise our profile and brought many new members into our ranks and this deluge of new blood combined with the most impressive renewal rates we have ever had, has caused a bottleneck in membership processing. The workload of the membership team has increased due to the changeover to the fairer rolling membership system and the introduction of a 2 month lapsed membership deadline, which caused an increase in the volume of enquiries to the department checking on the progress of applications, well before the 4 week grace period requested, in last months' BN. This has now pushed the processing time back even further."

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