26 Jun 2015

Diet shakes unhealthy for children - nutritionists

8:53 pm on 26 June 2015

A company promoting meal replacement shakes, detox pills and other weight-loss products for children says it could have the solution to the child obesity epidemic.

protein powder

Photo: 123RF

However, nutrition experts say parents who give their kids Isagenix products could be damaging their physical and mental health.

On its website, Isagenix claims that from age four, a child could benefit from one meal replacement shake a day and an "Isakids Essential" multivitamin, as well as antioxidant dietary supplements.

At 12 years old, health-conscious pre-teens are ready for the Isagenix cleansing products to rid them of toxins.

Isagenix, which originated in the US, did not reply to Radio New Zealand's requests for comment.

However, online literature on "Kid-Approved Isagenix Products" says the growing obesity epidemic means children's chances of growing into healthy adults are not looking good.

Isagenix offers "healthy solutions for healthier eating" for the whole family and provides children with "unparalleled nutritional products that enhance health".

However, critics have accused the company of jeopardising children's wellbeing.

Robyn Toomath, the founder of Fight the Obesity Epidemic and a diabetes specialist and clinical director of internal medicine at Auckland Hospital, said such marketing was "incredibly sad and incredibly dangerous".

"We are designed to eat real food. Processed food is a new invention, processed food has occurred concurrently with the obesity epidemic.

"Processed food is responsible for a lot of malnutrition, not just obesity."

Dr Toomath said Isagenix's website used "pseudo-science" to dupe people - including a very cheeky reference to research by renowned whole-food guru Michael Pollan, who would be horrified to see his work being used to promote these products.

The Isagenix website said its products were "appropriate" for children because they were not getting what they needed from processed junk foods or fruit and veges grown in poor or contaminated soil.

However, a dietitian with the New Zealand Nutrition Foundation, Sarah Hanrahan, said parents who gave their children diet shakes instead of wholesome food were putting their growth and development at risk.

"We don't eat nutrients - we eat food. And when nutrients are together in food things happen that don't happen when you have those individual nutrients.

"So whether a child [on the Isagenix programme] is going to be well-nourished and thrive or not, I think it's debatable."

She said the solution to the child obesity epidemic was never going to come in the form of a pill or a powder, but needed a raft of policy changes led by Government to change the food environment and make it easy and affordable for families to eat good food.

A counsellor for people with eating disorders, Maree Burns, said research showed that children as young as five are already worried about their weight, and dieting was often a gateway for eating disorders.

"To introduce kids to dieting and to give them the impression that they can't trust their own bodies is a really reckless thing to do, and is possibly setting them up for a life-time of trying to restrict their intake at best or develop disordered eating at worst."

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