A new report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health examines the possible association between school-based childhood obesity prevention programs and an increase in eating disorders among young children and adolescents.
The Poll asked parents about obesity prevention programs in their children’s schools and about food-related behaviors and activity that may be worrisome.
Overall, 82 percent of parents of children age 6-14 report at least one school-based childhood obesity intervention program taking place in their child’s school. Among these programs are nutrition education, limits on sweets or “junk food” in the classroom, height and weight measurements, and incentives for physical activity.
Additionally, 7 percent of parents report that their children have been made to feel bad at school about what or how much they were eating.
This same group of parents was also asked about their children’s eating behaviors.
Thirty percent of parents of 6-14 year-olds report least one behavior in their children that could be associated with the development of an eating disorder. These behaviors include inappropriate dieting, excessive worry about fat in foods, being preoccupied with food content or labels, refusing family meals, and having too much physical activity.
Do School Obesity Programs Cause Eating Disorders?
A new report out Tuesday shows that school obesity programs may promote worrisome eating behaviors in kids.
The report from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital shows that 30 percent of parents say they see at least one behavior in their children that could be associated with the development of eating disorders.
WWJ Newsradio 950 spoke with David Rosen, a professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan.
“We have to be really careful that we’re not putting things out there, particularly to younger kids, that might be misinterpreted, not be given appropriate supervision, and being done in ways that kids can, or some kids, can go off in dangerous directions and have bad outcomes,” Rosen said.
Rosen said it’s important that parents get involved and keep an eye out.
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“The issue of childhood obesity is a serious problem. In order to intervene in what seems like an epidemic of childhood obesity, everyone needs to be involved,” says David Rosen, M.D., M.P.H., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School and Chief of Teenage and Young Adult Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics.
However, Rosen says, “When obesity interventions are put in place without understanding how they work and what the risks are, there can be unintended consequences. Well-intentioned efforts can go awry when children misinterpret the information they’re given.
“Many of these behaviors are often dismissed as a phase,” says Rosen, “But given what we know about the association of these behaviors with the development of eating disorders and knowing that eating disorders are increasing in prevalence, they should be taken very seriously.”
Childhood Obesity and School Exercise Programs: Not So Fast
Studies from Greece to England to Australia and beyond have looked for correlations between physical inactivity and obesity, or school-based exercise programs and health benefits, calling almost unanimously for (to pick just one) “necessary school interventions in order to encourage healthier behaviours and habits.” To be sure, school-based programs here and there have reported success in reducing obesity and fostering healthy habits, but the results tend to be equivocal, especially when it comes to getting kids to stick with the program.
Taken together, the 26 studies of school-based programs aimed at promoting physical activity in Australia, South America, Europe and North America which the Cochrane team examined increased how long children spend exercising and cut their TV-watching time. So far, so good. The programs also reduced blood cholesterol levels and improved lung capacity, a measure of fitness. But—now the bad news—the programs had little effect on weight or blood pressure or on what kids choose to do in their free time, the last being a crucial indication of whether the programs are likely to change lifestyle habits for the better.
“Given that there are at least some beneficial effects, we would recommend that schools continue their health promotion programs,” said Maureen Dobbins of the School of Nursing at McMaster University in Ontario, who led the review.
Sharon Begley is the science columnist and science editor of Newsweek. She is the coauthor of the 2002 book The Mind and the Brain and the author of the 2007 book Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.
Parents that report incentive programs at their children’s school to increase physical activity are more likely to say their children are “too physically active” (11%) compared with parents who do not report incentives for physical activity at their child’s school (4%). Otherwise, the poll did not find an association between school-based obesity prevention programs and other worrisome eating behaviors among children.
The fact that 30% of parents report at least one worrisome eating behavior in their children is concerning.
“It’s much better and safer for parents to respond to worrisome eating behaviors early - even if there turns out to be no problem - than to wait until there is obviously a big problem,’ Rosen says. “It is much easier to prevent an eating disorder than it is to treat an eating disorder.”
Rosen offers these suggestions for parents:
1. Be attentive to your children’s eating habits. If you see behaviors that are worrisome to you, talk to your children about them. If the behaviors escalate, involve your child’s doctor.
2. Find out what your children’s schools are doing to prevent childhood obesity. Be involved and engaged in that process.
3. Ask your children if they’re being teased at school about their food choices or their weight. If they are, go to the school and find out what is happening.
Purpose/Funding: The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health - based at the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan and funded by the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases and the University of Michigan Health System - is designed to measure major health care issues and trends for U.S. children.
Data Source: This report presents findings from a nationally representative household survey conducted exclusively by Knowledge Networks, Inc. (KN), for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital via a method used in many published studies. The survey was administered in September 2011 to a randomly selected, stratified group of parents age 18 or older with a child age 6 to 14 (n=976), from the KN standing panel that closely resembles the U.S. population. The sample was subsequently weighted to reflect population figures from the Census Bureau. The survey completion rate was 58 percent among panel members contacted to participate. The margin of error is ± 1 to 5 percentage points.
Findings from the U-M C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health do not represent the opinions of the investigators or the opinions of the University of Michigan.
Source: University of Michigan Health System