Childhood Obesity or Eating Disorder

Childhood Obesity.  Eating Disorders.  Two distinctive diseases that are plaguing the generations of youth, endangering the lives, health, and wellness of children within our nation. A profound shift has been occurring in our country in the face of rising obesity rates in adults, adolescents, and children, resulting in an obsession with health that may be unfolding backfiring consequences.  According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2010 [1].  This startling trend has drawn the attention of the federal government, school programs, and social media in light of both the immediate and long-term effects obesity has on health and well-being.  But at what cost?

With the rates of eating disorders steadily rising in children and adolescents as well, a fine line is drawn between promotions for healthy eating and pervasive messages about wellness that can trigger eating disorder behaviors.  For example, many obesity prevention programs in schools teach children how to analyze food labels and categorize foods in ways that encourage “black-and-white” thinking, by identifying foods as either “good” or “bad”.  Interventions such as these can prove harmful to children who are predisposed to developing eating disorders, as their environment may encourage them to become hyper-focused on counting calories, omit certain “bad” foods, or track their weight.  While all in the name of obesity prevention this may seem harmless, children may be receiving mixed messages about nutrition and health that could prove detrimental in the long-run.

Obesity experts and eating disorder specialists are often in disagreement about this controversial topic.  On one end, obesity experts argue school-based health programs can decrease child obesity rates through wellness interventions.  On the other hand, eating disorder specialists often see patients whose eating disorder behaviors may have been triggered by such health programs promoted through schools.  Many eating disorder experts also draw attention to the relationship between type 1 diabetes and eating disorders in children and adolescents.  According to the American Diabetic Association, adolescents who are type 1 diabetic may be at even greater risk for developing an eating disorder because the daily focus on diet necessary for diabetes management can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with food and weight [2].  A similar argument is made about school aged children exposed to rigorous school-health programs.  Can this daily exposure to health, food, and weight lead to an equally dangerous road of an eating disorder?

With the health and wellness of future generations at stake, the lives of our children are dangling above uneasy waters.  Society has indeed become saturated with extreme forms of thinking, leaving little room for the promotion and practice of moderation, which has too easily slipped within the cracks of acceptability.  Perhaps that should be the message taught to our children:  Moderation and reasonableness.  Healthy eating and exercise behaviors can be promoted in ways that encourage children to enjoy life and their bodies, eliminating confusion and obsession so that extreme habits are nullified.

What are ways that you might encourage a child you love to choose a healthy lifestyle while avoiding extremes?


[1]: “Childhood Obesity Facts”

[2]: “Eating Disorders in Type 1 Diabetic Youth”.


About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website.