Thursday, January 06, 2011
Obesity and eating disorders: they're connected
When I talk with doctors about eating disorders, I often end my presentation with a caveat to them, to be aware of how the current
"war on childhood obesity" can trigger eating disorders in those who are vulnerable. That's the point in the program where I often see one or two audience members sit back and cross their arms in a way that telegraphs plainly their disbelief and even disgust. (I've had people walk out at that point, too.)
If you think that's pushing things a bit too far, I'd like to call your attention to just one of the many "anti-childhood-obesity" websites I've run across lately. This one is particularly egregious, as it offers up cartoon characters that are both offensive and poorly illustrated (not to mention an obnoxious soundtrack, which you can turn off at the lower lefthand corner of the screen). The "cast" of characters here includes O-Bee-Sity, described herein as "s "the supreme fat lord of the universe" who can "turn kids into globs of fat with one slimy touch"; Phat Cells, which "have the ability to multiply and wreak havoc on the human body"; and--rather unbelievably--Anna-Rexia, who apparently hails from the planet Bulimia (don't these folks get the difference?) and both "infects little girls with eating disorders" and "despises" the rest of the cast (shown above).
Aside from the bad art and wild overuse of copyright symbols, there's some just plain bad information here. The site claims that childhood obesity causes not just diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease (all of which is still up for discussion, especially given the fact that we don't know whether obesity causes these ailments or whether the ailments themselves contribute to obesity), but also cancer, liver disease, asthma, and eating disorders.
Hello? Considering the fact that one of the "characters" here is "Dr. Smart," billed as the "secretary of health and fitness at the Pentagon," I'd like to think that someone was actually doing some research and not just spewing ill-founded and unsupported opinions as facts. Sadly, this is not the case. And I'd have to say that this is the norm for sites like this, which remind me of other zealous-but-ignorant campaigns.
In fact, as readers of this blog probably know, it's not obesity that causes eating disorders, but rather a combination of factors, mainly genetics and dieting. It's the war on childhood obesity--and on adult obesity--that's responsible for triggering anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, not the condition of obesity itself. And the prejudice and stigma directed against the obese is likely responsible for many of the negative health outcomes we associate with weight.
Any way you look at it, websites like this one are not just ignorant or misguided; they're dangerous. And that's why I'll keep sounding the alarm when I talk to doctors. They need to know the consequences of their crusades.