Healthy eating campaigns ‘causing anorexia’

Healthy eating drive may have the unwelcome effect of encouraging anorexia. Pic: Bill Ebbesen

A SCOTS expert has said government healthy eating drives are causing anorexia in children.

Dr Jane Morris, chairwoman of the Scottish Eating Disorder Interest Group, said children were obsessing about their diet because of drives to combat obesity.

Last week reports of children as young as six were being treated for anorexia emerged, and figures showed medical treatments were on the rise.

Dr Morris, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Royal Edinburgh hospital, said it was a ‘huge concern.’

She said: “We’ve had so many families say, all this [the eating disorder] started with the healthy eating lesson.

“Their child has come home from school and said, this food or that foodwas bad and she was only going to eat good food from now on.

“I’ve never yet heard a parent say, ‘thank goodness for the healthy eating classes because my shild would be obese without them.’”

She added: “The healthy eating message is often a trigger andit is often a disguise as well.

“Most young girls, in particular, have massive body image concerns.”

Dr Morris is working with private schools to study how eating disorders develop in seven to 17-year-old girls.

Many schools run healthy eating lessons when pupils reach puberty.

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, the eating disorder charity, said: “I’ve been in talks with the Department of Health in England about how they might nuance some of those messages around childhood obesity.

“To encourage anyone to obsess about their weight or shape, never mind an 11-year-old girl, is tricky.”

Defending its healthy eating promotions, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said they helped reduce the risk of serious preventable conditions, including cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The spokeswoman said: “We all have a part to play in improving the diet of Scotland’s young people and it is important that we continue to promote positive body image through the benfits of a healthy lifestyle and diet.”

Last week MSP Dennis Robertson revealed his daughter had died of anorexia shortly before he was elected last year.

He called for GPs and members of the public to be more aware of the symptoms of anorexia, and said those suffering from it should seek help immediately.

His daughter Caroline was only 18 when she died.

According to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, 1.6 million people in the Uk have an eating disorder, of which 10% have anorexia.


  1. For anyone in the role of teacher, mentor and even parent there is a balance to be struck between didactic information and patient support. Food and nutrition is and should be a central part of family / domestic life. I have been struck by the positive enthusiasm that emanates from so many TV cooking programmes especially Jamie Oliver’s. We can all enjoy cooking and sharing food with those who matter to us. The reality is that the daily diet of many ‘should-know-better’ health care workers in Scotland is lamentable. My wife, in her campaign to encourage children to be more involved in cooking, experiences schools set in nutrition deserts and, in particular, teenagers who say “yuck” to anything new or green. She is just promoting the use of fresh ingredients as a vehicle to really tasty (and yes nutritious) meals that even children can prepare. As a GP I know that pursuing a better quality of life for my patients is more honest, satisfying and successful than just telling people to stop doing the things that have given then at least some degree of pleasure in the past. If we merely preach about good and bad foods we do a disservice to the cultural and personal importance that food and satiation have in our lives. Anorexia is a complex and pernicious disease but let’s not confuse its management with a commitment, political, social, industrial, educational and health, to improving the national diet at a time when it is so needed.

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