Healthy School Lunch Debate Is Now Causing Eating Disorders?
Psychologist believes a diet that's too restrictive may fuel bigger health issues for students
The fixation with healthy eating in our schools is fueling anorexia and obesity in our kids. That is the assessment of Tara Porter, a clinical psychologist in London.
“Trying to teach total avoidance or abstinence from sweets, burgers, chips and cakes is impossible for most and unrealistic in a consumer society where these products are marketed everywhere,” she wrote in The Times (U.K.) Education Supplement. She called sugar bans in schools a draconian approach that is only fueling the problem, as opposed to helping solve anything.
Schools should instead still offer chips, pizza and other "unhealthy" foods — but in sensible portions.
“Foods were suddenly either good or bad,” said Porter, and she feels the approach has serious flaws.
Nutrition experts in the U.S. have mixed feelings about Porter’s opinion.
“I don't really feel it's the school's problem overall,” said Janet Brancato, a New Jersey-based registered dietician and online nutrition consultant at mynutopia.com.
“The discussion is not about weight. It is about health," insisted one pediatrics medical director.
“What the schools have done is a positive thing. The way things were going was [more toward] fast food, so they have sort of come to the middle. It's not perfect, obviously, but it's a lot better," Brancato told LifeZette. "And that's where kids spend most of their day, every day" — at school. So it's important that healthy options are available during the day for children.
Brancato often counsels families struggling with obesity issues among one or more of their members, and said most of the time, the negative messaging happens more at home, in the media, or among kids' peers — not as a result of any conversation about nutrition at school.
Dr. Dyan Hes, medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City, told LifeZette, “The conversation about healthy eating is not creating more eating disorders. If anything, it is enabling kids to be aware that their choices can improve their health at a young age.”
Schools often share information about healthy eating and making healthy choices, she told LifeZette. On top of that, school lunch programs are not directed at any one child, but rather approached as a public health measure to improve the nutrition of children in America.
“The discussion is not about weight. It is about health. In no way should this be creating eating disorders," said Hes. "The great thing about school lunch changes is that the children benefit from healthier foods on a daily basis."
Yet the founder of Chicago-based Hispanic Food Communications couldn’t agree more with Porter’s comments, in terms of healthy portion sizes.
“I have been preaching about mindful eating and serving small portions to children, and even adults, for a long time — so I am thrilled to see this piece that touches on the delicate subject of developing healthy/wholesome eating habits in children,” said Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, a registered dietician and certified personal trainer.
Brancato said if a parent or guardian is concerned about a child’s weight or eating habits, the adult should try to approach the conversation in a positive way about healthy goals. Families should also do more shopping, food prep, and cooking together.
“Nutrition has to be in the conversation as soon as kids can understand,” Hes added. “Even the toddlers who say ‘no!’ and throw their food off their plate are engaging in poor eating behaviors. They can already figure out that if they keep throwing all green foods on the floor, they will get something they like more, such as yogurt, cereal, or pasta.”
Parents, she said, should offer balanced meals to kids from the minute they eat solids at six months old.
Klinger added that families should eat together as much as possible; parents should bring pleasant conversations to the table. Most importantly, she said, if you want kids to eat healthy, "Set a good example — actions speak louder than words."