Save vending machines, says anorexia expert

11th November 2005 at 00:00
Dee Dawson cannot imagine any child voluntarily buying a carrot stick instead of a chocolate bar.

The medical director of Rhodes Farm clinic for school-age anorexics and bulimics believes that the policy of encouraging healthy eating in schools is misguided and potentially dangerous.

"I'm upset that schools are taking out vending machines," she said.

"Children need to learn to make choices. Most will choose sensibly. We certainly should not be saying that they should not be eating chocolates or sweets. If you ban things, you make them exciting or attractive. Then they overdo it and make themselves ill."

Children, she said, will always find a way of acquiring contraband sweets.

For this reason, she does not believe healthy vending machines will succeed.

"I think they're wonderful, if children are going to put in their money and buy carrot sticks," she said. "But you're on to a loser if you try to tell children they don't like burgers, pizzas or ice-cream.

"Instead, you convince them these are evil foods. You make them feel guilty, and then they restrict their diet as penance."

Her clinic regularly takes girls whose parents have tried to cut out fat from their diets. But the human body cannot survive without fat. A shortage affects cholesterol levels, as well as ability to concentrate and learn.

"If all children did extra exercise, and burned up an extra 100 or 200 calories a day, that would make a major difference to childhood obesity,"

said Dr Dawson. "We shouldn't be trying to restrict their diets."

Paris, a 16-year-old patient at Rhodes Farm, agrees. "Schools and the Government should say, eat five pieces of fruit or veg a day, but don't forget your treats. Just eat normally, and have something you enjoy once a day," she said.

But then she added: "It makes so much sense. I can say that to other people. But when it's you, it's a whole different ball-game."

Leadership 31

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