So ‘Britain needs to go on a diet’, claimed Public Health England officials in January alongside promoting that adults should only be eating 400 calories at breakfast and 600 for lunch and again at dinner. The have also advised that children should only be allowed snacks containing just 100 calories. We are constantly being told about the worst offender restaurant meals that we need to avoid and not to mention the dramatic hysteria relayed to us over the evils of sugar. It’s all about numbers, cutting back, and there has been no acknowledgement from the government on how these kinds of ideas may easily lead to an obsession with keeping nutritional intake down. The excessive reading of food labels to encouragement to keep a check on weight so to not go above that red line into obesity can be easy triggers.
Frankly for those people that are obese and do need to be healthier for their own sake, it seems to me to be pretty damn patronising. Often bad habits can be passed on through family or from poor mental health. I do not wish to speak for others but I do believe that instead of shoving facts and figures in their faces and guilt-tripping them, there needs to be more one to one support within local communities, and also a little more compassion and sensitivity put forward. The advertising campaigns that list the risks of type 2 diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and heart attack are directed with the tone that people that have a high BMI are simply ignorant to those risks and just need some education, or a lecture more like.They are not stupid but most likely too stuck in a routine, not to mention the cost of fresh vegetables and produce over that of microwave burgers or sweets instead of fruit which means the ‘sugar tax’ also penalises poorer members of society.
More over I want to talk about the damage these changes can have on people with eating disorders, and how they may well cause the development of them, especially in children. The only vocalisation of this risk has been on social media, and by the charity Beat who released a statement regarding concerns about the 100-calorie snack campaign aimed at children which has prompted a Change.org online petition. They said:
“We have heard from parents and treatment providers who cite the promotion of anti-obesity messages to children as a factor in the onset and maintenance of eating disorders.
“Public health professionals must consider the wider impact of their campaigns, including the potential impact on mental health.
“We have heard from our service users who are concerned that this campaign may increase the risk of young people developing an eating disorder.”
The response Beat had from had from Public Health England was underwhelming with no real consideration as to the message they were trying to put forward.
Add to this the complete lack of improvement to treatment services for people with eating disorders and the empty promises and excuses given for this. In the Channel 4 documentary Wasting Away: The Truth About Anorexia featuring journalist Mark Austin and his daughter Maddy, Jeremy Hunt admitted that funds that should have been spent on improving mental health and eating disorder health-care had in fact been used to offset NHS cuts in other areas.
Yet despite the promises that providing better resources for people with eating disorders would be a priority, nothing has changed, and I’ve seen firsthand how patients in both inpatient and outpatient facilities have been let down time and time again. I’ve seen neglect and malpractice, the discharging of patients that are still very much acutely ill and then left to fend for themselves, with no after-care. ‘bank’ nurses used to fill staffing gaps that have no clue what they are doing, a revolving door of the same patients returning after inevitable relapse and I could go on. But if it’s money that is the issue then this is clearly in no way cost-effective. More importantly to those in the midst of it. these failings in care of are tearing hopes for recovery in half, they are ripping apart families and taking lives of people that should have been looked after and kept safe.
Separating foods into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is in no way helpful for anyone, and can be particularly problematic way of thinking both for people that are at a high weights and the target audience of the Change4Life anti obesity strategy, and also individuals struggling with anorexia, bulimia, Ofsted and the yet to be officially named Diabulimia or T1ED, which I have discussed in past blogs. This condition desperately needs adequate recognition in order to action urgent referrals to specialist facilities from the first point of contact, whether that be in a GP’s office, diabetes clinic or the detection of a problem in a patient with type 1 diabetes that is being admitted to hospital with diabetic ketoacidosis on a frequent basis, and without obvious cause. It can kill someone within days if left undetected.
Furthermore, many individuals that are overweight or obese may have eating disorders themselves. A binge eater will use food as a coping mechanism and way to hurt themselves in the same way someone with bulimia does, and with anorexia in their refusal of it. In such cases the constant bombardment about this obesity crisis or epidemic only serves to shame them even more than they already feel.
I do grasp part of the reasoning behind these campaigns but the agenda has gone too far and there is too much not being said. There is no acknowledgement of the other end of the spectrum, and it really wouldn’t take much, would it? To have some kind of information put out alongside the current advertising on the signs and symptoms of eating disorders and how actually, many of us in Britain definitely do not need to go on a diet and don’t need to be told that we do.
Useful websites and helplines: