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Op-ed: Is starving our teenagers the new fast track to health?

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Op-ed: Is starving our teenagers the new fast track to health?

Projects aimed at weight loss advocate dangerous methods to maintain a suppressed body weight.

Projects aimed at weight loss advocate dangerous methods to maintain a suppressed body weight.

Illustration by Pete McKay

Projects aimed at weight loss advocate dangerous methods to maintain a suppressed body weight.

Illustration by Pete McKay

Illustration by Pete McKay

Projects aimed at weight loss advocate dangerous methods to maintain a suppressed body weight.

Kristen Kilgallen

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Although being overweight is a characteristic, not a behavior, overweight individuals are often perceived as if they have done something wrong simply for existing. Health care providers and researchers continue to blame patients for their weight, forcing internalized societal beliefs concerning the “correct” weight upon individuals. Patients face negative health effects from weight-loss methods little to no evidence supports as successful.

The American Heart Association recommends that anywhere from 1,800 to 2,200 calories are needed daily for normal bodily functions of teenagers. But projects like Australia’s The Fast Track to Health Trial restrict participants aged 13 to 17 to 800 calories a day for a month, followed by a stage of intermittent fasting of 600 to 700 calories three days per week for the next year.

This “war on obesity” has hijacked researchers’ objectivity and allowed scientists to fall prey to the cognitive distortion of weight standards. Our health care system is failing its patients because providers refuse to accept mounting evidence that contradicts the moral and cultural beliefs associated with being “fat” — laziness, gluttony, shame. There is little to no evidence that calorically restrictive diets are a successful tool for long-term weight loss, nor is there data to support the idea that weight loss, in isolation of other confounding factors, will lead to better health outcomes.

Studies that showed positive health outcomes associated with weight loss focused only on short-term diets. In the Look AHEAD trial, which used lifestyle interventions to aid weight loss, two separate groups enacted the same changes in behavior, like implementing a moderate exercise routine and a more balanced diet. Regardless of whether they lost weight or not, both groups showed signs of improved quality of life and health. These results further suggest that weight loss has no bearing on whether or not one’s health improves.

The stress of being overweight in our society is traumatizing, and that mental stress manifests in the body. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even indicated that diet, exercise and other daily activities are only a fraction of what determines our health; the largest indicator of good health is economic status. If health care providers were truly concerned about keeping people healthy, why not advocate for closing the wage gap or supporting universal health care?

Why are we subjecting kids to methods scientifically proven to cause metabolic damage, hormone imbalances, an unhealthy relationships with food and negative self-esteem? Not only is the weight loss minimal (5 percent of one’s body weight), but many subjects regain the weight within a few months, often with additional weight gain. This cycle of weight gain and loss places increased strain on the cardiovascular system and causes inflammation, a main contributor to the diseases often linked with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease.

We are perpetuating a cycle of malnourishment in children during the most crucial stages of their lives. The hypervigilance required to maintain a suppressed body weight impairs an individual’s ability to participate fully in life, while they perceive their body weight as a fault and obstacle they are unable to overcome.

If overweight individuals were meant to be thin, their bodies would not fight them to get there. If their weight were truly an ailment to their health, moderate lifestyle interventions could help them to get back to their setpoint weight range without waging a war on their bodies. The pre-existing notions of weight must be challenged and changed. People take better care of their bodies when they are coming from a place of love, not from restrictions meant to beat our bodies into submission.

 

Kristen Kilgallen is a first-year journalism major.

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