In 2009, a South African health and life insurance company started a health promotion program. Customers who signed up received a benefit called HealthyFood, by which various discounts were given via a grocery corporation’s approximately 800 stores.
At the beginning of this year, the bad news came:
HealthyFood Program participation is associated with more consumption of fruit/vegetables and wholegrain foods, and less consumption of high sugar/salt foods, fried foods, processed meats, and fast-food. There is no strong evidence that participation is associated with lower BMI or obesity prevention.
Now, what are we supposed to think? It’s like all those other exciting news items that have appeared and given brief hope, only to be eclipsed by some study brandishing precise numbers to prove the opposite.
Another case of “dueling experts” is provided by school fitness programs, which are believed to reduce childhood obesity. Many sincere people work long hours on their own time trying to convince local governments and school boards of the need for better facilities and opportunities for physical activity, in schools and public spaces.
However… other voices are also raised, and they don’t all express the same opinion.
The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital polled parents all over the country about their 6- to 14-year-old kids, and learned that four-fifth of those kids went to schools with some kind of obesity intervention programs in place. Also, 7% of the respondents said their kids had been “made to feel bad at school about what or how much they were eating.”
The parents were asked about things they saw their kids doing that made them worry about an eating disorder possibly developing — “inappropriate dieting, excessive worry about fat in foods, being preoccupied with food content or labels, refusing family meals, and having too much physical activity.” A disturbing 30% of the parents reported at least one of these.
The details are vague on why the blame for this number should fall on the schools’ programs. It would be useful to know more about the numbers from the schools without programs. Do children seem about to fall prey to an eating disorder because of the program, or in spite of it ?
And why should anyone listen to the self-reported, unprofessional opinions of parents regarding, for instance, what constitutes “too much physical activity”? Remember, these are the same people who messed the kids up in the first place. Why should well-meaning schools and municipalities take the rap? An awful lot of questions, it would seem, still remain to be answered before such programs are condemned.
ScienceDaily quotes Dr. David Rosen, whose full titles are given here because of the gravity of the words he speaks — M.D., M.P.H., Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School and Chief of Teenage and Young Adult Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics:
When obesity interventions are put in place without understanding how they work and what the risks are, there can be unintended consequences.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Eating Better for Less: A National Discount Program for Healthy Food Purchases in South Africa,” NIH.gov, 01/13
Source: “School Obesity Programs May Promote Worrisome Eating Behaviors and Physical Activity in Kids,” ScienceDaily, 01/27/12
Image by cpaparcuri (Christian Paparcuri).