Friday’s U.S. News & World Report noted that after spending billions of dollars on a decade-long food fight, politicians, public-health officials, and nutrition activists have failed to put the brakes on childhood obesity. Unfortunately, their endless diatribes against soda in school and sundaes in the summer (in the name of fighting a childhood obesity "epidemic") seem to have done more harm than good, as U.S. News notes:
The path to an eating disorder is often paved with the good intentions of parents and educators who presume that warning and cajoling or joking will motivate children to lose weight.
"Junk" food campaigns — like the ones spearheaded by the food cops at the Center for Science in the Public Interest — promote food restrictions and outright bans. Studies have shown messages like these poison the natural relationship that young people have with food. The percentage of children with disordered eating habits (e.g., fasting, skipping meals, using diet pills) has nearly doubled in the last five years, according to a 2006 University of Minnesota study. The number of teens seeking liposuction has nearly tripled since 1998, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. And with a growing focus on "bad" foods and the flawed Body Mass Index (BMI), experts believe that these figures offer just a small glimpse of the collateral damage from the losing battle in the war on fat.
"We’ve taken the approach that if we make children feel bad about being fat or scare them half to death, they’ll be motivated to lose excess weight," says Joanne Ikeda, nutritionist emeritus at the University of California-Berkeley, who studies pediatric obesity prevention. "It hasn’t worked in adults, so what makes us think it will work in kids?"
Rather than re-evaluate these failed initiatives, food cops have responded by pushing for more extreme versions of their previous blunders. Trans fat labeling didn’t work, so they pushed for trans fat bans. Nutrition facts on grocery items had no effect, so now they’re lobbying for mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menus. Like a political campaign in the throes of death, their strategy has become increasingly negative. And evidence shows they’re heading in the wrong direction.
"Most experts now favor a positive approach" according to U.S. News. In contrast to the taxes, restrictions, and bans employed by nutrition activists, many researchers are finding weighty success in affirmative strategies that focus on strength gained from regular exercise, or the pleasure of enjoying many different kinds of food. Studies conclude that health starts at home. And kids look primarily to parents — not health officials, politicians, or even teachers — to lead the way.