In response to Change 4 Life’s 100 calorie snack campaign and in light of the concerns raised by those affected by eating disorders, Beat says:
It is important that messages aimed at reducing obesity consider the impact they may have on individuals at risk of developing an eating disorder.
We have heard from parents and treatment providers who cite the promotion of anti-obesity messages to children as a factor in the onset and maintenance of eating disorders. Public health professionals must consider the wider impact of their campaigns, including the potential impact on mental health.
We have heard from our service users who are concerned that this campaign may increase the risk of young people developing an eating disorder. While the campaign is aimed at parents, it is easy to see how it will also engage a younger audience. Encouraging excessive focus on calorie counting could be harmful for young people susceptible to disordered eating.
The number of calories in a snack is not a reliable indicator of its impact on health. A 100 calorie drink or snack with high levels of processed sugar will not reduce feelings of hunger, whereas many healthy snacks are over 100 calories and can play an important role in a healthy and balanced diet. Focusing on calories rather than on healthy and balanced eating is unhelpful. Other factors including level of exercise will also impact on the amount of food needed.
We understand there are public health obesity strategies in other countries that have a positive impact on mental wellbeing and reduce the risk of eating disorders. We are investigating these to see whether they could be applicable to the UK.
We encourage Public Health England to listen to concerns about the impact this campaign could have on those at risk of developing an eating disorder and change the campaign to focus more on healthy eating rather than calorie counting.
Anyone interested in this issue may like to watch this video raising concerns and consider signing this petition which asks important questions of Public Health England.