Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Fear of fat makes kids sick

barbie doll
Funded by millions from public money, the message has been hammered into the brains of Swiss parents: Every fifth child is "suffering from overweight", and this disease must be prevented. The campaign has been running for quite a while now, but yesterday experts have warned from the opposite: More and more kids, even as young as ten years of age, suffer from anorexia. Erika Toman, president of the Swiss Expert Network on Eating Disorders (ENES) blames the public health campaign as part of the problem: "That kids are concerned so early about eating is also caused by the mass of information about this issue."

Of course public health campaigns are not the only source of information. Young girls play also with their superslim Barbie dolls. They watch TV commercials selling diet products. They see their parents being concerned about their weight. At table, food is an issue of good and bad rather than a source of pleasure. Instead of training their natural hunger and satiety mechanism, kids interfere this process with imposed ideas about "healthy eating".

What is the effect of this campaign?

supersize trikeSuch super-sized trikes, sleds, and classroom chairs for kids are the visuals of a public health campaign, claiming: "Switzerland is growing fatter and fatter. It takes little for a big change." There has been much debate about fat kids being ridiculed by the visuals, a feeling that I share. The leaders of the campaign have defended it, stating that it does not address the fat kids but only those in danger of becoming fat. That is, all the so-called normal-weights.

But this is even worse, in my opinion. Should kids with a so-called normal weight be concerned about their weight? Of course not. If so, they are candidates of an eating disorder and may end up as very young anorectics.

After all, the job of kids is to grow and become big and strong. At least this has been the message when I was a young boy, helping Hedi, a farmer's wife, harvesting the hay in summer holidays. She put a second huge piece of Swiss cheese in front of me and said: Take it, you must grow big and strong. I took as much as I could eat and never got fat. But this is another story, the story of genes that have their own idea about your shape, regardless of what you eat.

Suggested reading: Food is good to eat (Sandy at Junkfood Science)

Photo credits: flickr.com/photos/cherrysoda/115956078/, Health Promotion Switzerland

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