Education: Let children eat crisps, says doctor

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The Independent Online
Society's obsession with healthy eating and exercise is driving children to anorexia. Chocolate, crisps and chips are good for people, a leading expert in eating disorders said yesterday. Judith Judd, Education Editor, explains why Dr Dee Dawson wants children to eat Mars bars rather than celery sticks.

Around half of six-year-old girls are worried about their weight. Between 1 and 2 per cent of girls are anorexic and 5 per cent of sixth-formers are bulimic. Dr Dee Dawson, medical director of the Rhodes Farm Clinic in London, told heads of leading girls' independent schools that we must stop making children feel guilty about food.

Dr Dawson recently had a six-year-old in her clinic who was crying and refusing to eat because her thighs were too fat, she said at the Girls' Schools Association annual conference in Bristol. Society, she said, should be ridiculing the muscle-wasted models of fashion magazines and pointing out that page three girls in the Sun newspaper did not look like that.

"Marilyn Monroe was at least a size 16, as indeed are 47 per cent of the female population," she said.

"The media, the fashion industry, teachers, parents and the Government all played a part in ruining some children's lives by endless talk about the evils of fat. Chocolate, cheese, crisps and chips are wonderful energy- giving foods which children need. Almost without exception my patients are fat phobic."

Almost all had been putting water on their cereals before they were admitted, she added. One would not go swimming in case she said she absorbed fat from fat people in the water. Teachers should not tell children that a low-fat diet was healthy, and mothers should not eat salad in front of their children and snack on cheesecake and ice-cream when they were in bed.

Advice being prepared by the Government on children's diet and leaked recently was wrong, she argued. It is said to recommend banning school tuck shops, banning chips from school canteens and restricting chocolate sales from vending machines. Government advice on school meals published earlier this year already advises restricting fat intake. But Dr Dawson said there was not a shred of evidence to suggest that children should avoid fat.

"I would like to say to the Government think twice before you panic yet more children into a life of chronic starvation and possible death," she said.

Parents and schools could do more to help, she believes. Parents needed to face up more readily to their children's eating disorders. Schools should weigh all pupils every term and those about whom they were worried every week without divulging the results, she suggested.

Isabel Raphael, head of Channing School in north-east London, said that he fashion industry was partly to blame for girls' worries about their weight. "I have had perfectly normal developing girls in my room who say they can't go to the local shopping centre with their friends because they can't find anything fashionable that fits," she said.

Penelope Penney of the Haberdashers' Aske's Girls School in Hertfordshire, said her school was considering weighing all girls in the third year but it would difficult to organise it more than twice a year.