Anti-Obesity Programs Could Be Giving Kids Eating Disorders

Recently, we learned that junk food in schools may not have much effect on kids' weight. But another study shows that school anti-obesity programs could have some unintended consequences, possibly triggering kids' eating disorders.

According to ScienceDaily, researchers surveyed parents of kids aged 6-14 — 82% of them said their kids had some kind of anti-obesity program at school. And 30% of them — which, the study authors note, is pretty high — said their kids exhibited some kind of eating disorder behavior, like "inappropriate dieting, excessive worry about fat in foods, being preoccupied with food content or labels, refusing family meals, [or] having too much physical activity." Of these, only the last one was explicitly correlated with anti-obesity programming — kids who had exercise incentive programs at their school were more than twice as likely to over-exercise as kids who didn't. However, study author David Rosen says many anti-obesity programs have potential drawbacks:

When obesity interventions are put in place without understanding how they work and what the risks are, there can be unintended consequences. Well-intentioned efforts can go awry when children misinterpret the information they're given.

He adds, "Many of these behaviors are often dismissed as a phase. But given what we know about the association of these behaviors with the development of eating disorders and knowing that eating disorders are increasing in prevalence, they should be taken very seriously." A lot of advocates of anti-obesity programming argue that obesity is way more common than eating disorders, so we shouldn't worry too much about the latter when trying to fix the former. But this study offers evidence that disordered behaviors are actually fairly common in kids, and that at least in some cases, school programs can make them worse. All the more reason to emphasize healthy eating, reasonable exercise, and moderation — not weight.

School Obesity Programs May Promote Worrisome Eating Behaviors and Physical Activity in Kids [ScienceDaily]

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