SIRC – Media Watch 01-12-99
At the end of October the Schools Education Unit announced a sharp increase in the number of teenage girls that were dieting or skipping meals in order to attain some level of weight loss. About 60% of 14-15 year old girls, the highest level the unit has yet recorded, expressed a desire to lose weight. One of the most frequently cited explanations for this trend is that impressionable teenagers are particularly susceptible to the body-image of the 'supermodels' that regularly adorn the pages of the popular press and whose eating habits are vehemently documented in magazines.
As if to emphasise this prevalent belief, while warning of its dangers, both the Express and the Guardian reported on the latest fad diet to be practised by the Hollywood in-set. Among the exultant purveyors of the new carbohydrate-free eating regime were the infamously thin Jennifer Anniston and the British actress Minnie Driver. By removing the carbohydrates from the diet the blood-sugar level drops. The pancreas then produces less insulin, which results in the body burning fat. In short, eat what ever you want but just don't put in a bap! Dr John Hunter, consultant gastroenterologist at Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge is one of the many British health professionals concerned by this new fad."Carbohydrates are the body's preferred energy source. Without them, the body will get its energy from fat, but this increases your risk of things like heart disease, gallstones and arterial disease and could raise your cholesterol level. In the longer term, it will increase the metabolic load on the liver and kidney, and could permanently damage them." Dr Gail Goldberg, a senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, is another: "This is against all the advice we give about reducing fat to lower cholesterol levels, and increasing your carbohydrate intake."
Celebrity weight watching seems to have become quite a popular pastime for the tabloids recently. An article in the Daily Mail on November 30 claiming that the ubiquitous celebrity, Victoria Beckham, was suffering from anorexia and tagging her with the unfortunate title of "Skeletal Spice" prompted an angry response in the Mirror on the following day. Commenting on the picture that accompanied the Mail's article Mrs Beckham said: "The photograph made me look skinnier than I am. I'm not anorexic, I'm not bulimic and I'm not a skeleton. I'm 7.5 stone, very fit and feel great."
So a proportion of British youth may be skipping meals in an attempt to emulate the stars, but according to a study in the Lancet, they are actually becoming fatter. Data from a nationally representative sample of 2630 English children showed that the frequency of overweight ranged from 22% at age 6 years to 31% at age 15 years. Expert help however may be on hand. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association came to the extraordinary conclusion that children's weight could be reduced by allowing them to watch less television!