Children Going on Diets: What's Really Causing This?

29/11/2011 22:05 GMT | Updated 29/01/2012 10:12 GMT

An article in Sunday's Independent stated that "Quick-fix diets drive teens to hate their bodies".

This angst over how weight, body image and dieting affect young people was also brought to the fore in August because of the children's book "Maggie Goes on a Diet".

Of course, I agree. It is very disturbing when you read about children as young as six saying they want to be "skinny and hot".

But I do feel that too many people think that the solution lies in somehow isolating children from these bad influences. I don't think that's possible.

Yes, it is terrible that children are developing concerns about body image at younger and younger ages, but it's only because their parents are so riven by these concerns too.

You can't ringfence children off from this while these pressures run rampant through the rest of society. If you are to stop children being affected, you must do something for adults too.

As I see it, there are three problems that face the average person in our society:

1. Unrealistic images of weight and beauty

While the article in The Independent blamed weight loss companies, the truth is the causes are much more systemic than that. Everywhere we go, we are bombarded by images of the "ideal" body. One that bears no resemblance to reality.

2. An environment that promotes weight gain.

We are surrounded by food. Not just any kind of food, but by high fat, high sugar and extremely tasty food. We also don't have to be as active as we used to. So we eat more calories and burn off fewer of them, resulting in gaining weight.

3. A lack of effective solutions for being overweight.

The unfortunate consequence of a combination of point 1 and 2, is that you have people who really want to be "thin" combined with an environment where it's really easy to gain weight. And this makes "quick fixes" a tempting option for many.

But I would argue that it is not just "quick-fix" diets that are the problem. It is the dieting mentality as a whole.

Diets don't work. Temporarily restricting what you eat until you get to a certain weight is not a long term strategy for maintaining a healthy body.

And yet, the default solution in our society for someone who is overweight, is to "go on a diet".

The weight-promoting environment, unrealistic body expectations and the dieting mentality all conspire to create a serious societal problem.

But it is folly to suggest that we can somehow isolate and protect children from this without addressing the wider issues.