Anorexia warning after health report
Dr Dee Dawson, who runs a residential clinic for anorexic and bulimic children and teenagers in North London, is concerned by the way the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy recommendations have been presented to the public.
Few parents and teachers are likely to read the full report, and will be unable to counter the misleading information already given in media coverage of the Department of Health-backed report.
Of particular concern to Dr Dawson is a selection of specimen meals. "If you followed them as breakfast, lunch and evening meal, most children would be 700 to 1,000 calories short of what they needed, and the fat content would be 15 per cent instead of the recommended 35 per cent.
"Anyone worried about their diet wants to be perfect, and a lot of teenage kids will read this and think they have to follow it exactly to be healthy. "
She added: "I am sure there will be more cases of teenage anorexia as a result of this. We know anorexic behaviour develops because people get this obsession about being thin, and they look to things like this for excuses."
Children who tried to cut their fat down to the 15 per cent apparent in the specimen meals - rather than the 35 per cent recommended in the body of the report - would be seriously deficient in certain vitamins.
Although Dr Dawson says the overall recommendations would provide a perfectly safe and healthy diet for children, the much-publicised details - such as being allowed three-quarters of a small chocolate bar a week - are intended as a national average.
Although Dr Dawson says it is sensible to cut down on saturated - largely animal - fats, the risk of contracting coronary heart disease through diet does not begin until the early 20s in men and the menopause in women.
So concerned is she about the increasing problem of anorexia - her NHS-accredited clinic now takes 22 patients at a time, with a constant waiting list - that she is trying to tell teachers and parents that prevention must be the emphasis.
This summer, she made Dying To Eat, a video for schools which explains the permanent damage which can result from near-starvation regimes. "The trouble is that a lot of teachers get their information on diet from women's magazines, which are not aimed at children. It is really important that children get the right message," she says.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the report was intended for the Chief Medical Officer as an overall recommendation, not simply for individuals.
Dying To Eat costs Pounds 50 from Dr Dawson at Rhodes Farm Clinic, The Ridgeway, London NW7 1RH.