Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, has published a report on the risks to people with eating disorders caused by government anti-obesity strategies. The report outlines the ways in which anti-obesity measures have the potential to cause distress to people at risk of developing an eating disorder, and may exacerbate eating disorder behaviours in those already diagnosed. While acknowledging the importance of obesity as a public health issue, the report notes that strategies harmful to people with eating disorders appear nevertheless to be ineffective at reducing obesity.
Previous and proposed anti-obesity strategies, such as changes to menus and food labels, information around ‘healthy/unhealthy’ foods, and school-based weight management programmes all pose a risk to those with eating disorders. A person with lived experience of an eating disorder told Beat that: “Encouragement of calorie counting and fear of obesity in public campaigns was the main source of the beginning of my eating disorder. As someone growing up with a perfectionist mindset, it truly made the fuel behind the fire worse.”
In the report, Beat calls for future public health strategies to take a holistic approach to addressing obesity that is informed by evidence from the field of eating disorders, including input from people with lived experience, and makes the following recommendations:
It is clear that the current insensitive and ineffective approach to anti-obesity campaigns urgently needs to change. While we recognise the importance of reducing obesity, shaming the public into losing weight is ineffective and risks severe harm to people with eating disorders. We call on the UK’s governments to ensure all campaigns instead take an evidence-based, multi-disciplinary approach.