Eating Disorders are the Reverse Side of the Child Obesity Campaign

January 19, 2009 – 3:06 am

In 2006 the Australian Government launched a $6 million campaign to reduce Child obesity and the Australian Medical Association (AMA) welcomed the focus on kids’ health.

The idea was to focus on junk food and get parents to stop the child from eating fast foods, sweets and other unhealthy foods.  TV, radio and newspapers were running government sponsored ads to point out the dangers of these kinds of foods, with the idea to get kids eating more healthy foods.

This at the time seemed a very noble cause as overweight kids are a big problem in all western countries. The government was correct that for these overweight kids there was a great risk to their health from diseases such as diabetes, heart problems and high blood pressure etc, in later life.

What they did not factor in was the psychological effects on these overweight kids and may have inadvertently created a whole new generation of eating disorder victims.
Kids were encouraged to start diet clubs at school and there have been stories of kids being weighed at school, at times in front of the whole class. We learn of incidents of bullying and social isolation of larger children which is another anecdotal trigger for eating disorders.
What has now happened is a lot of these overweight kids are starting to be ostracized by their peers and so much pressure being placed on them that they are starting to suffer from stress and other psychological ailments, like anorexia and bulimia.

What the so call experts in the government ranks forgot was that the child brain is like a giant sponge and very plastic. It absorbs huge amounts of information forming neuronal pathways with the information that is deemed to be important.

So constant teasing and emotional abuse from other kids for being a bit overweight can have a devastating effect on the child and the way they see themselves, or to put it simply their body image.

This added to the fact that the so called perfect body type is the emancipated Hollywood stars and the super thin catwalk models they see in the media: it is easy for the plastic brain of the child to form a distorted view of reality.

Even shows like Australian Idol and American Idol favor the slimmer better looking contestant, with the bigger contestant voted out of the show even if they are fantastic singers. They just don’t fit that TV mode or what a modern singing idol should look like. This is an extremely bad role model for the slightly overweight child or teenager who watches these shows; it sends a lot of false messages to their brain.

The major problem that arises from all this negative bombardment on the child about weight is the fact that it will be formed in a child brain and formed by child logic, e.g. eating food equals becoming fat, equals being teased, equals bad emotions. So the remedy is to stop eating, loose lots of weight and you will be accepted.

When these kids become adults this faulty distorted thinking will be a full blown case of an eating disorder and extremely difficult to treat because it was formed in the plastic brain of a child with child logic and emotions.
But luckily there have been major breakthroughs in the treatment of eating disorders using the fact that our brains remain plastic even into adulthood, it is call neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is a method where we are able to form new neuronal pathways by using a set of mental exercises built on new positive emotional input. Once these new pathways have been built and are used instead of the old destructive ones, the old pathways will loose their power: hence the eating disorder will disappear.

Will this be easy for this new generation of eating disorder sufferers to do:  no absolutely not.  The problem as stated is the fact that these faulty neuronal pathways have been build in the child brain and will be extremely hard to shift.

Unfortunately a lot of children will fail and suffer lifelong eating disorders, but luckily a lot of people will succeed using the neuroplasticity approach. Many more than will succeed with this new approach than the conventional treatment used today to treat eating disorders.

William Webster BA.

To read more about bulimia help go to http://www.mom-please-help.com


  1. good job!

  2. I admire your unique and innovative perspective as to how children come to experience full-blown eating disorders later in life. In fact, in researching childhood eating disorders and risks, I continue to find the repetitively obvious and common discourse associated with the subject: that eating problems arise from family problems and the media, among various other sociocultural, biological, and behavioral perspectives. While these standpoints are legitimate and have been studied for years, it is refreshing to see a new take on the issue at hand.

    Firstly, I think you raise a very important point in shedding light on the fact that programs designed to promote health and to combat obesity may sometimes backfire. New Guidelines for Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs on the Academy for Eating Disorders have been recently posted and discuss that a mere “emphasis on appearance and weight control can promote eating disordered behaviors.” By stressing weight and healthy eating, children begin to think more about such issues and in consequence, may start diet clubs and embark on unhealthy journeys towards losing weight. With the focus centered on being skinny, those children that are overweight tend to stand out even more so than before in contrast. Additionally, other factors like the media only serve to exacerbate the problem.

    Secondly, I agree with your idea that the pessimistic attitudes that overweight children acquire throughout their childhood can lead to full blown eating disorders later on. This is especially true since these negative schemas are formed when the child’s brain is most “plastic.” The idea is that while children’s development system are still malleable to change, they will acquire negative views towards food and the self, which will then become molded into their brains as they become adults. You note that there have been major breakthroughs in the treatment of eating disorders via “neuroplasticity”, “using the fact that our brains remain plastic even into adulthood.” This idea appears to be a pioneering approach to the treatment of eating disorders, and I am very interested to see its development. You are honest in candidly noting that treatment is difficult and not meant for everyone. However, your argument would be more convincing if you implemented sufficient data and/or empirical research in your discussion of neuroplasticity. Your readers would gain a lot by knowing the facts, how many people this type of treatment has worked for, and the scientific and psychological implications. It would only benefit you to include more evidence. Nevertheless, I applaud your intuitive and modern approach to a historically old problem.

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