As a dietitian, I'm used to hearing about all sorts of diet regimens, pills, drinks, and plans. I'm doing a very well-received diet review series on my blog, and am accustomed to seeing adults who want to lose a few pounds. That's old news.
Recently though, there seems to be a disturbing trend of nutrition/weight loss programs like Isagenix and ViSalus promoting their adult diet products for kids. This may seem innocent enough to the layperson, as the products are being marketed in a way that seems to promote health and in one case, help tackle the childhood obesity epidemic. To me and some of my colleagues though, this trend spells major trouble. And coming hot on the heels of a CBC.com article about people putting their non-celiac kids on gluten-free diets, when I saw this I knew I needed to say something.
Here's the Isagenix marketing material that I'm talking about:
Just the thought of giving my 6 year old something called 'Cleanse for Life' and 'Slimcakes' seems incredibly misguided and wrong. Staying healthy might be a 'lifetime commitment', but letting your young kids drink 'Isalean shakes', and your 12 year old drink a cleanse drink that 'releases toxins stored in fat cells and gently eliminates impurities'?
How okay are you with your 18 year old doing an 'Isaflush' cleanse for a 'natural system reboot'? The ingredients in most of these products may be harmless in these quantities (I checked against the kids' vitamin and mineral recommendations, for the proprietary blends though, you're on your own), but the names speak volumes; things you never want to say to your children or anyone, actually.
The questions that come to my mind when I think of people giving their kids Isagenix or any weight loss products are:
Why are we teaching our kids that our bodies contain 'toxins' and that they are so dirty that they need cleansing?
Why would you give a 4 year old 'Slimcakes' which, even if not for weight loss, introduces the concept of 'slim' into their vocabulary at such an early age? Is it possible that you're giving them the impression that they need to be on a diet, even if that's never true? What does it say to a child about themselves when you give them 'Slimcakes'? The notion is frightening.
I don't think I could ever justify the risk of giving products like these to my kids, and I'm talking the mental health risk, not just the physical risks. To give kids the impression that expensive products based on zero scientific evidence can be better than or improve a healthy diet with whole foods is something I can't understand.
We're living in a world where 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner, and 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat, and we should do everything we can to ensure that kids are raised with a healthy body image.
And just as an aside, if you think that it's okay to consume these diet products in front of your kids and that they don't notice that stuff, think again. This study (one of many) shows that 5 year olds' ideas about dieting are predicted by their mothers' dieting. As anyone who has ever uttered a swear word near their young kid and thought they won't understand or repeat it knows, kids see and hear a lot more than we give them credit for.
Sadly, Isagenix isn't the only company marketing to kids.The second weight loss program that's marketing to children now is ViSalus.
A different tactic but no less disturbing, Vi uses a sort of philanthropic approach to indirectly sell its products to children. Check out the marketing materials:
I'm seriously holding back a huge amount of profanity right now when I look again and again at this completely absurd and NOT OKAY initiative.
Are you kidding me, ViSalus? Why? Why? Why would you give obese or at-risk kids meal replacement shakes? Why would you not at least give them a CSA box or food vouchers for fresh foods or oh my god I don't know, maybe a cooking class? But meal replacement shakes? And why in the world would you frame it as 'a culture of giving'?
Giving what, eating disorders?
Giving the impression that health comes from meal replacement shakes and not whole foods?
Giving the soul-sucking experience for a child of seeing the packs of 'meal replacement shakes for weight loss' and knowing that's their next meal? And believing that there's something so wrong with their body that they need to be punished with this stuff instead of real food? I can't. I just can't, Vi.
For a child to have a healthy diet, you need to model healthy eating for them. You also need to teach them how to choose, prepare, and eat food that tastes like food. Kids don't need cleanses, low calorie shakes, Slimcakes or any other products that are marketed as part of a diet regimen. No, No, No!
Please don't teach your kids that their bodies are sewers that need to be flushed, cleansed, or detoxed. Instead, teach them that their bodies are strong and beautiful and capable. Get them involved in meal preparation at home, and stop dieting in front of them.
Weight can be gained and lost, but a healthy attitude towards food and eating is vital. It's also very complicated to get back once it's gone, and the negative repercussions can follow a child through to adulthood.
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