Childhood obesity is a rising epidemic in our country. A number of schools designed to deal with this problem have cropped up in the last decade. These schools target kids who need a standard education as well as training and support for weight loss. Judging from articles about these institutions, it appears that the standard approach for kids is to take off weight quickly by virtue of a low-fat/low-calorie diet and a great deal of exercise. Does this sound familiar? It’s extreme weight loss for children!
The author of the diet to which the children are subjected in one of these well-known schools, is a doctor of psychiatric and behavioral science. Isn’t this just the guy you want preparing the menus for a bunch of extremely overweight kids—a behaviorist? Recall the landmark study on behavior modification that concluded that it had absolutely no influence on the long-term maintenance of weight lost by dieting. In light of this study and others like it, this doctor’s behaviorism and mental/emotional-focused credentials are questionable, to say the least. Is his background really even appropriate when these kids are up against biology, as studies strongly suggest they are?
We’ve also talked about the professional prejudices regarding overweight/obese people. This appears to be a good example. Once hired by colleagues who believe that behavior modification is the key to success for overweight people, this behaviorist probably figures these kids are emotional bingers, psychologically disturbed, and food-addicted. It sure looks like they are! He is likely to take the view, since this is apparently still all the rage, that these kids need to eat as little as possible and exercise as much as possible and, voila—massive weight loss will result in just a couple of months. So of course, the diet he designs is a starvation diet from any angle.
Children Weight Loss Tips Schools for Obese Children Photo Gallery
Here’s an example of a “super lo-fat diet” breakfast for a child at this type of school who may be 80 pounds overweight and working out at least two hours a day: 1 cup non-fat yogurt, 1/2 cup blueberries, 1 tsp. sweetener, 1 cup decaf, 1/8 cup nonfat milk. I am not making this up. They are measuring the blueberries! And 1/8 cup skim milk? Really? There are just over 100 calories in this “meal.” Don’t forget the bolus of exercise that goes with this “feast.”
This doctor may get the result he wants and a big round of applause from the medical community, excited as usual, about weight loss with no regard for the long term Starving kids and forcing heavy exercise will definitely cause weight loss—fast weight loss that cannot last. It is physiologically impossible, and it is an amazing wonder to me that, given the abhorrent statistics on weight loss maintenance after dieting, particularly strenuously dieting, that professionals, yes, professionals, are still barking up the wrong tree—and kids are their victims.
One young man, 15 years old, lost 81 pounds in four months. This averages out to over one-half pound a day! Given the carefully controlled food intake and exercise regimens, no wonder he lost 81 pounds in such a short time. He said his depression had completely cleared up with this weight loss, and that’s understandable. The trouble is, this school is only designed for one semester per student. Then the students go home where their food intake cannot be controlled and their exercise habits are certainly less rigorous. The kids on the website giving testimonials for the school are all very recent weight-loss successes. Of course, they are.
One fascinating comment in a glowing article about one of these schools caught my attention:
“Of course it’s one thing to lose weight; it’s another thing to keep it off. ”
I guess we almost forgot about that part. At least they mentioned it in passing. Then the writer went on: The way kids can maintain their weight loss is by having the right mindset. I wonder how they came up with that; the right mindset? Has the right mindset ever worked for you?
The Good Doctor
I corresponded with a well-known obesity specialist for several months. We agreed, and we disagreed. But one thing struck me as quite amazing: There was a “summit” meeting of many professionals in the field of obesity at one of the schools to which I have just referred. One boy there had lost 102 pounds in one semester, about four months. There was great celebration about this “success.” It was pointed out that this kid learned to grow his own vegetables and attended a class on nutrition and weight control, i.e. behavior modification. It was also noted that his self-esteem and his social life remarkably improved. Everyone cheered, hugged and slapped one another on the back over this boy’s accomplishment.
One nutritionist wrote an enthusiastic article about how this one boy, (who had just lost this weight), had conquered his demons and how, if he could do it then everybody else, can too!
I was aghast when I read about this excitement and naivete. Surely, a professional in the field would be familiar with the statistics on post diet rebound! Of course, with the school’s ’round-the-clock support, total control of his diet, and an exercise regimen he could not refuse, this child was bound to lose a lot of weight in a hurry. But so what? It doesn’t really mean a thing until he has maintained that loss for at least two years—five years meaning a cure—and his chances of doing that are slim to none, if you’ll pardon the expression. Long-term maintenance of this weight loss is impossible, if you factor in the incredible speed with which he lost the 100 pounds and his obvious famine sensitivity. Does this forecast make me cynical? Can’t I hope for this one young person’s success in his terrible struggle?
I am not cynical. I am realistic. I have been a part of the field for over 30 years. Statistics don’t lie— they never lied for me.