Can Obesity-Prevention Programs Backfire?

You might have missed this news – it was on page 7 of my local newspaper – and I had to do some multiple google searches to find the Canada AM video interviewing Dr. Leona Pinhas from the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children. (I’ll save you the headache – search Leona Pinhas Schools – look for the link “Canada AM”)

I also managed to find the original research – entitled “Trading health for a healthy weight: the uncharted side of healthy weights initiatives.”

You can find it here:

In her article, and during the video interview, Dr. Pinhas explains that in her opinion, some of the school based initiatives are perhaps going over-board. Not that she did research – nope – she’s just gathering anecdotal evidence from 4 kids that showed up at her clinic to support her ideas that kids with a tendency to over-compulsive behavior can hear the message ‘eat less sugar’ and translate it into “eat no sugar”, with the resulting potentially negative results. So she’s putting forth an argument for putting our emphasis, and money, on positive behavior modeling rather than on ‘lectures’ pointing out what foods to avoid. Sound like a great idea if you ask me.

Unfortunately – no where in the video does she mention that she only studied 4 kids, and definitely no where in the 32 point headline that read “When obesity-prevention programs backfire” do you discover the shaky ground on which her argument is built. The sub-heading: “The push for ‘healthy eating’ at schools has triggered disordered eating in some children” at least contains the word ‘some’, implying that the problem isn’t universal. But did you think 4 when you read some? I didn’t.

But despite my issues with the study – the fact remains that sending positive messages is an awful lot harder than can be imagined by people outside of the classroom. In the words of positive physiology – it takes 5 good positive comments to balance just one negative. Can you imagine how many positives are needed when faced with a child with a negative body image? Impossible. And that’s if they even hear the positives at all.

So I’m suggesting that we try everything – from making 32 oz soft drinks illegal (sorry – I think that was a great idea New York City), to teaching everyone how to stop eating when they are full, to bringing cooking classes into schools so no kid can use the excuse – my parent was to busy to make me lunch.

Yes – will power is hard. Yes eating insanely fills the need for company. Yes – it’s easier not to chew. Yes – chocolate bars are cheaper than apples. But unless we want to come face to face with the reality pictured in Wall-E, we can’t take the current obesity problem in North America sitting down.

2 thoughts on “Can Obesity-Prevention Programs Backfire?

  1. I find it frustrating that you have to research every danged thing you ever hear in any media to know the real truth of things. You can’t take anything at face value, no matter who or what. And people apparently don’t mind helping to spread lies, rumors, and innuendos. A FB friend recently posted one of those horrific chain hoax meme’s of some child having been brutally attacked while trying to protect his 6 year old sister from being molested and raped by the stepfather. The story was completely false and the people non-existant. I pointed that out and the reply was, well it didn’t hurt me or anyone else for me to share it. :S

    • Didn’t think about that – great point. I have a friend I dearly love – but they have – more than once – been guilty of spreading one of those internet rumors. Which is why I love ( You can easily find the ‘truth’ about any urban legend there. Check it out.

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