Filed Under: Food Scares

How About a White House Task Force on Anorexia?

The Law of Unintended Consequences states that whenever governments meddle in something complex, they create negative outcomes that they didn't predict or intend. This idea dates as far back as 18th-century economist Adam Smith. But today's food cops, believing that we can make people healthier if we let the government intervene in our lives, don't seem to have gotten the message.

Take the problem of obesity. Food nannies believe the best solution is for the feds to take a scorched-earth approach against food companies and restaurants while demonizing the foods they call "bad." But of course, when you're that heavy-handed, you're bound to create some pretty awful unintended consequences, according to one registered dietitian and nutrition consultant:

Now experts are seeing another problem on the horizon. The rate of eating disorders among children is on the rise. Children as young as 6 or 7 are being diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia nervosa. … Some child psychologists are concerned children are hearing so much about the "obesity epidemic" and seeing the way our society discriminates against those who are overweight that we may be driving this generation to unhealthy relationships with food.

Well-meaning adults may present foods as "good" or "bad" or "fattening" in an effort to encourage children toward better eating habits. Children may begin to judge themselves as "good" if they are thin and "bad" if they are overweight.

We must use extreme caution as adults when talking about weight and dieting in front of children. Remember that 70 percent of kids are not overweight.

Kathy Warwick, author of the above piece, isn't the first to sound this warning. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once said as a U.S. Senator that "many adolescents misinterpret [the fight against obesity] as a message that they should eat to achieve the body of a runway model. Anorexia and bulimia are increasingly common among our nation’s youth." In 2007, doctors and nutritionists told the Arizona Republic that the campaign against childhood obesity was backfiring badly. "[T]he nation's campaign against childhood overweight and obesity is backfiring, starting kids on a lifetime of secret eating, yo-yo dieting, eating disorders and feelings of worthlessness," the paper warned.

Reliable statistics on eating disorders are hard to come by. Recent research from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that hospitalizations of children ages 12 and younger for eating disorders increased 119 percent between 1999 and 2006. Another study from the British Schools Health Education Unit found that 20 percent of 12- and 13-year-old girls skipped breakfast, and 14 percent skipped lunch.

All this reminded us of health hysteric MeMe Roth's musings on American Idol winner and teen icon Jordin Sparks: "When I look at Jordin, I see diabetes, heart disease, I see high cholesterol … She’s the vision of unhealth." Most food activists aren't this cruel. But maybe they should back off a bit before getting hysterical about childhood obesity.

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