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Mental health concerns raised over new Change4Life sugar awareness snack video

PUBLISHED: 14:39 23 January 2018 | UPDATED: 10:38 25 January 2018

Filmmaker Tallulah Self. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Filmmaker Tallulah Self. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

A video to improve children’s health by educating parents on sugary snacks has been criticised by a mental health campaigner.

The Public Health England Change4Life animated cartoon promotes healthier snacks for youngsters and encourages parents to look for “100 calorie snacks”.

Within the campaign, parents are advised to give the healthier food options twice a day at the most to boost youngsters’ dental and overall health.

But 18-year-old film-maker Tallulah Self, who grew up on Ipswich Road, Norwich, believes the campaign could be potentially damaging to young people’s mental health because of its calorie counting message.

She created a film in four days using powerful messages from parents of children with eating disorders, young people who suffered with eating disorders, bloggers and vloggers.

Miss Self, a former Hellesdon High School and Paston College pupil who was in hospital for six months because of anorexia, said: “The campaign is to teach people about obesity and tooth decay which is serious but it is going about it the wrong way. It could be misleading and harmful.

“As children you cannot escape the adult diet culture. Children are not stupid. They pick up on things more than adults.

“Nutrition is very important but Public Health England should not be putting the idea of numbers and calorie counting onto children.”

The teenager, who works for a London production company, is proud of her film which features the slogan #nutrientsovernumbers.

She, and other contributors, are asking for Public Health England to reconsider its Change4Life campaign and include disclaimer messages.

An online petition asking for Change4Life to educate parents on teaching their children about a balanced diet has started.

Alastair Forbes, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia who specialises in nutrition, said: “It is possible that any nutritional information could be misinterpreted but the risks of children living with obesity are far greater than those who have an increased risk of developing anorexia.”

He said it was important to boost children’s nutrition rather than encouraging “redundant calories”.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “Our Change4Life campaign helps millions of families make healthier choices. Every campaign encourages families to eat more fruit and vegetables and use front of the pack labelling to choose healthier foods.

“This campaign responds directly to parents’ concerns and our campaigns are rigorously tested with parents to ensure they provide helpful and practical advice. It’s not about counting calories - it’s a simple tip for parents to help change their children’s snacking habits.”

A spokesman for eating disorder charity Beat said: “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 is very unhealthy and will not reduce hunger, whereas many healthy snacks are over 100 calories and can play an important role in a healthy and balanced diet. Focussing 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.”

Visit www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk

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