Restricting Children from Junk Food Leads to Unhealthy Relationship with Food

Photo courtesy of Ben + Sam, Flickr

In United States elementary schools, long gone are the days of Lunchables, sugary drinks and after-lunch desserts. Sweets have been almost abolished from school lunches, and in-class snack time is now seeing the same fate.

Some elementary schools have also eliminated sweets from school celebrations and parties, further enforcing policed lunches that are proving in some cases to be more harmful than helpful.

Recently published in the U.K. Times, a study by London clinical psychologist Tara Porter states the recent focus on healthy eating in schools, as well as attempts to completely rid school diets of sweets, is actually helping increase the percentages of childhood obesity and anorexia.

“Trying to teach total avoidance or abstinence from sweets, burgers, chips and cakes is impossible for most and unrealistic in a consumer society where these products are marketed everywhere,” said Porter in the Times.

“Foods were either suddenly good or bad,” Porter continued, explaining that this approach to controlling junk food intake is verging on being a “draconian” practice.

Though many might argue encouraging healthy choices cannot harm children nearly as much as sugary foods can, Porter’s reasoning is logical.

By telling children that they must completely take sweets, chips and soda out of their diets, we are implementing harmful ideas that root themselves deeper in their growth than unhealthy ingredients.

If a child constantly sees foods such as cookies and cake as “bad” because they are not only unhealthy but will “make them fat,” there is reason to believe this child may grow to be so scared of gaining weight that they could develop an eating disorder such as anorexia.

On the other hand, a child may develop tendencies closer to obesity. When a child is deprived of a certain food, they can’t help but be curious as to what they’re not eating, and as a result crave the sugary food they’re not allowed to have. This practice may enforce binging and overeating when that food is attainable, therefore leading to yet another unhealthy choice.

In less frequent occasions, but still concerningly, healthy eating forced on children leads to Selective Eating Disorder (SED), or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). The newest eating disorder introduced by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013, ARFID restricts the diets of those with the disorder in the sense that they are frightened by the texture, smell or sight of various foods.

People with SED or ARFID, especially children, typically have diets limited to five or six “safe foods,” and are completely repulsed by just about every other imaginable food. Generally, the most “unsafe” food groups for selective eaters are fruits and vegetables.

Considering children are the demographic most likely to suffer from ARFID, it becomes scary to think that these children are forced to eat the foods that they simply cannot eat.

In no way is this to say that encouraged healthy choices are entirely a bad idea. It’s important to raise children in an all-around healthy environment, food choices included.

The problem with these new school lunch policies in elementary schools is not the goals of said policies, but instead the extent to which they reach. By restricting children completely from junk food, we are surpassing healthy eating and instead striving for unattainable perfection that can potentially lead to a lifelong unhealthy relationship with food.