Position Statement: Body Shaming and Weight Prejudice in Public Endeavors to Reduce Obesity 

(January 30, 2012) There is a growing concern within the global community of eating disorders professionals about body shaming and weight prejudice in public endeavors to reduce obesity (see, for example, this recent NEDA press release). While efforts to improve public health and well-being are applauded, it is of concern when shame, blame and ridicule are used for such a purpose. Research points to the adverse impact of body shame, which is associated with eating pathology. Also concerning is the parent-blaming evident in many awareness-raising campaigns about childhood obesity.

As a global professional association committed to leadership in eating disorders research, education, treatment and prevention, the Academy of Eating Disorders (AED) condemns such approaches and urges the media, health-care and governmental organizations to focus on health-promoting behaviors, eschew a narrow focus on weight and take care to avoid messages that promote weight-based stigma.

The AED has published guidelines that highlight ways to address childhood obesity without doing harm, which may be accessed through the AED website.


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Position Statement: The Role of the Family in Eating Disorders

DEERFIELD, IL, September 2009 - The Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), a global professional association committed to leadership in eating disorders research, education, treatment and prevention, is issuing a Position Paper on The Role of Family in Eating Disorders that outlines research refuting the common misconception that families are a primary cause of anorexia or bulimia nervosa, and describes the important role of families in treatment and recovery. The paper is available here.

The AED stands firmly against any model of eating disorders in which family influences are seen as the primary cause of eating disorders, condemns statements that blame families for their child’s illness, and recommends that families be included in the treatment of younger patients, unless this is clearly ill advised on clinical grounds.

Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are serious mental and behavioral disorders that pose significant danger to the health and well-being of sufferers.  The causes of these conditions are complex.  The Position Paper cites research that has been recently conducted that clearly refutes the notion that families are a primary cause of eating disorders, though particular styles of family behavior may increase risk for psychopathology in general, including eating disorders. 

Work conducted at the Maudsley Hospital in London has demonstrated that families can be an important resource for younger patients’ suffering from Anorexia when they are included in the therapeutic work.   There has been less research on family treatment for Bulimia, but findings thus far indicate that family-based treatment methods may hold promise for this patient group as well.
“It is important to help and support sufferers and engage their families in the recovery process, whenever it is appropriate,” said AED President Susan Paxton, FAED.  “Hopefully, our position will ease the burden of guilt and shame on families and let them see what a resource they can be in their family member’s journey of recovery.”

The Academy for Eating Disorders is an international, trans-disciplinary professional organization with more than 1,400 members worldwide. AED provides education, training and a forum for collaboration and professional dialogue. Visit www.aedweb.org for more information on AED, eating disorders, and the role of families in the recovery process.


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Guidelines for Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs

Sigrún Daníelsdóttir, Cand.Psych., Deb Burgard, Ph.D., & Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, M.D.

Studies from around the world show that body weight in youth has increased over the past decades (Chinn & Rona, 2001; Kautiainen, Rimpelä, Vikat, & Virtanen, 2002; Tremblay & Willms, 2000; Troiano & Flegal, 1998), although the most recent evidence suggests that this increase may be leveling off, at least in the United States (Ogden, Carroll, & Flegal, 2008).  Concern over rising weights has spurred various community and school-based interventions aimed at decreasing childhood “overweight.” These include the mandatory screening of children’s BMI, banning of “junk food” in school cafeterias, limiting vending machines in schools and promotional campaigns emphasizing the dangers of excess weight. Many health professionals have voiced concern about the safety and efficacy of these interventions, fearing that they have little positive effect and may inadvertently contribute to overconcern with weight and shape, unhealthy weight control practices, and weight bias (e.g. Berg, 2001; Cogan, Smith, & Maine, 2008; Ikeda, Crawford, & Woodward-Lopez, 2006; Neumark-Sztainer, Wall, Story & van den Berg, 2008).

A substantial body of evidence from the eating disorder literature demonstrates that a general emphasis on appearance and weight control can promote eating disordered behaviors. For example, when important agents in children’s social environment (e.g. parents and peers) endorse a preference for thinness and place an importance on weight control, this can contribute to body dissatisfaction, dieting, low self-esteem and weight bias among children and adolescents (Davison & Birch, 2001; Davison & Birch, 2004; Dohnt & Tiggemann, 2006; Smolak, Levine, & Schermer, 1999). Additionally, weight-control practices among young people reliably predict greater weight gain, regardless of baseline weight, than that of adolescents who do not engage in such practices (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2006). Thus, it is important to evaluate the unintended consequences of “obesity prevention” programs, which may lead to unhealthy behaviors and weight displacements in both directions.

Unfortunately, few studies have examined the effects of “obesity prevention” efforts on risk-factors for eating disorders, such as body dissatisfaction and weight loss dieting. Those that have suggest that focusing on health, not weight, may be key to avoiding harm to body image and eating behaviors. For example, Austin, Field, Wiecha, Peterson & Gortmaker (2005) found lowered rates of disordered eating in a school-based intervenion that focused on promoting healthy diet and activity patterns, rather than on weight per se. These findings emphasize the feasibility of simultaneously promoting body esteem and healthy lifestyle behaviors in youth, as others have suggested (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005). Expanding the vision of “obesity prevention” programs to include the prevention of eating disorders and related issues, may help to ensure that they promote overall health and safety.

Body weight cannot be evaluated in a vacuum. It is not a reliable proxy for eating behaviors and physical activity. Although statistical associations exist between body weight and risk for morbidity and mortality, being heavy or slender is not by definition pathological. Correlation does not imply causation and the middle of the weight spectrum can cloak a panoply of unhealthy practices. Since healthy living is important for children of all sizes, interventions should focus on lifestyle rather than weight.           

The Academy for Eating Disorders applauds efforts to make children’s environments as healthy as possible. However, it is important that special care be taken in the construction and implementation of “obesity prevention” programs to minimize any harm that might result. To this end, the following guidelines have been developed for school-and community-based interventions addressing rising weights in youth.

  • Interventions should focus on health, not weight, so as to not contribute to the overvaluation of weight and shape and negative attitudes about fatness that are common among children and have harmful effects on their physical, social and psychological well-being.

  • The World Health Organization defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Consistent with this definition, interventions aimed at addressing weight concerns should be constructed from a holistic perspective, where equal consideration is given to social, emotional and physical aspects of children’s health.

  • Interventions should focus not only on providing opportunities for appropriate levels of physical activity and healthy eating, but also promote self-esteem, body satisfaction, and respect for body size diversity. Prospective studies show that body dissatisfaction and weight-related teasing are associated with binge eating and other eating disordered behaviors, lower levels of physical activity and increased weight gain over time. Thus, constructing a social environment where all children are supported in feeling good about their bodies is essential to promoting health in youth.

  • Interventions should focus only on modifiable behaviors (e.g. physical activity, intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, teasing, time spent watching television), where there is evidence that such modification will improve children’s health.

  • Weight is not a behavior and therefore not an appropriate target for behavior modification. Children across the weight spectrum benefit from limiting time spent watching television and eating a healthy diet. Interventions should be weight-neutral, i.e. not have specific goals for weight change but aim to increase healthy living at any size.

  • It is unrealistic to expect all children to fit into the “normal weight” category. Thus, interventions should not be marketed as “obesity prevention.” Rather, interventions should be referred to as “health promotion,” as the ultimate goal is the health and well-being of all children, and health encompasses many factors besides weight.

  • School-based interventions should avoid the language of “overweight” and “obesity” since these terms may promote weight-based stigma. Moreover, several of the most effective interventions have not focused on weight per se.

  • Interventions should focus on making children’s environments healthier rather than focusing solely on personal responsibility. In the school setting, these include serving healthy meals, providing opportunities for fun physical activities, implementing a no-teasing policy, and providing students and school staff with educational sessions about body image, media literacy, and weight bias. In the community setting, these include making neighborhoods safer, providing access to nutritious foods, constructing sidewalks and bicycle lanes, building safe outside play areas, and encouraging parents to serve regular family meals, create a non-distracting eating environment, and provide more active alternatives to TV viewing.

  • Interventions should be careful not to use language that has implicit or explicit anti-fat messages, such as “fat is bad,” “fat people eat too much”, etc.

  • Children of all sizes deserve a healthy environment and will benefit from a healthy lifestyle and positive self-image. School-based interventions should not target heavier children specifically with segregated programs aimed at lowering weights. However, this should not discourage efforts to provide physical activities tailored for larger bodies or to address the experiences that heavier children share as a group.

  • Determining normal or abnormal growth in children should be dependent on the consistency of their growth over time and not just the percentile at which they are growing. Childhood overweight should be defined as an upward weight divergence that is abnormal for an individual child, which can be determined only by comparing the child to him- or herself over time. This can be accomplished by consulting an individual growth chart, rather than an arbitrary BMI cutoff.

  • Interventions should aim for the maintenance of individually appropriate weights—that is, that children will continue to grow at their natural rate and follow their own growth curve—underscoring that a healthy weight is not a fixed number but varies for each individual.

  • A sudden shift away from the growth curve in either direction may indicate a problem, but further information about lifestyle habits, physical markers and psychological functioning is needed before a diagnosis can be made. Changes in weight are not always a sign of abnormal development. An increase in weight often precedes a growth spurt in children and some girls begin to gain body fat as part of normal adolescence at a very young age.

  • Weighing students should only be performed when there is a clear and compelling need for the information. The height and weight of a child should be measured in a sensitive, straightforward and friendly manner, in a private setting. Height and weight should be recorded without remark. Further, BMI assessment should be considered just one part of an overall health evaluation and not as the single marker for a student’s health status.

  • Weight must be handled as carefully as any other individually identifiable health information

  • The ideal intervention is an integrated approach that addresses risk factors for the spectrum of weight-related problems, including screening for unhealthy weight control behaviors; and promotes protective behaviors, such as decreasing dieting, increasing balanced nutrition, encouraging mindful eating, increasing activity, promoting positive body image and decreasing weight-related teasing and harassment.

  • Interventions should honor the role of parents in promoting children’s health and help them support and model healthy behaviors at home without overemphasizing weight.

  • Interventions should provide diversity training for parents, teachers and school-staff for the purpose of recognizing and addressing weight-related stigma and harassment and constructing a size-friendly environment in and out of school.

  • Interventions should be created and led by qualified health care providers who acknowledge the importance of a health focus over a weight focus when targeting lifestyle and weight concerns in youth.

  • Representatives of the community to be studied should be included in the planning process to ensure that interventions are sensitive to diverse norms, cultural traditions, and practices.  In this spirit, it is important that interventions be pilot tested before implementation in order to collect quantitative and qualitative feedback from the participants themselves.

  • It is important that interventions be evaluated by qualified health care providers and/or researchers, who are familiar with the research on risk factors for eating disorders, as the interventions are being implemented in schools or communities. Ideally, the assessment should not only evaluate changes in eating and activity levels but also self-esteem, social functioning, weight bias and eating disorder risk factors, such as body dissatisfaction, dieting and thin-ideal internalization. 



Austin, S.B., Field, A.E., Wiecha, J, Peterson, K.E. & Gortmaker, S.L. (2005). The impact of a school-based prevention trial on disordered weight control behaviors in early adolescent girls. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 159, 225-230.

Berg, F. M. (2001). Children and Teens Afraid to Eat: Helping Youth in Today’s Weight Obsessed World (3rd Ed). Hettinger, ND: Healthy Weight Network.

Chinn, S., & Rona, R. J. (2001). Prevalence and trends in overweight and obesity in three cross sectional studies of British children 1974-94. British Medical Journal, 322, 24-26.

Cogan, J. C., Smith, J. P., & Maine, M. D. (2008). The risks of a quick fix: A case against mandatory body mass index reporting laws. Eating Disorders, 16, 2-13.

Davison, K. K., & Birch, L. L. (2001). Weight status, parent reaction, and self-concept in five-year-old girls.Pediatrics, 107, 46-53.

Davison, K. K., & Birch, L. L. (2004). Predictors of fat stereotypes among 9-year old girls and their parents.Obesity Research, 12, 86-94.

Dohnt, H., & Tiggemann, M. (2006). The contribution of peer and media influences to the development of body dissatisfaction and self-esteem in young girls: A prospective study. Developmental Psychology, 42, 929-936.

Ikeda, J. P., Crawford, P. B., & Woodward-Lopez, G. (2006). BMI screening in schools: Helpful or harmful?Health Education Research, 21, 761-769.

Kautiainen, S., Rimpelä, A.,Vikat, A., & Virtanen, S. M. (2002). Secular trends in overweight and obesity among Finnish adolescents in 1977-1999. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 26, 544-552.

Neumark-Stzainer, D. (2005). Can we simultaneously work toward the prevention of obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 38, 220-227.

Neumark-Sztainer, D., Wall, M., Guo, J., Story, M., Haines, J., & Eisenberg, M. (2006). Obesity, disordered eating, and eating disorders in a longitudinal study of adolescents: How do dieters fare five years later? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106, 559-568

Neumark-Sztainer, D., Wall, M., Story, M., & van den Berg, P. (2008). Accurate parental classification of overweight adolescents’ weight status: does it matter? Pediatrics, 121, e1495-e1502.

Ogden, C. L., Carroll, M. D., & Flegal, K.M. (2008). High body mass index for age among U.S. children and adolescents, 2003-2006. Journal of the American Medical Association, 299, 2401-2405.

Smolak, L., Levine, M. P., & Schermer, F. (1999). Parental input and weight concerns among elementary school children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 25, 263-271.

Tremblay, M. S., & Willms, J. D. (2000). Secular trends in the body mass index of Canadian children. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 28, 1429-1433.

Troiano, R. P,. & Flegal, K. M. (1998). Overweight children and adolescents: description, epidemiology, and demographics. Pediatrics, 101, 497-504.


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Position Statement: Eating Disorders are Serious Mental Illnesses

In the U.S. and abroad, the failure of insurers and other gatekeepers to treatment to consistently recognize eating disorders as serious mental illnesses has resulted in an ongoing heath care crisis for sufferers and their families. In response to growing concern about this crisis, the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) has released a position paper in the March issue of its scientific journal explaining the scientific rationale for identifying eating disorders as serious mental illnesses.

“Recent research on eating disorders supports the proposition that these are serious mental disorders with significant morbidity and mortality,” says Dr. Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “Based on genetic and neuroimaging studies, eating disorders appear to have a biological basis, analogous to what is observed in other serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and addictive diseases. All of these illnesses, including eating disorders, need to be addressed as biomedical as well as behavioral problems if we are to help people recover.”

In summary, eating disorders are biologically-based, serious mental illnesses because:

• There is medical and scientific evidence that anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are as heritable as other psychiatric conditions (e.g. schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression) that are considered biologically based.
• The behaviors of restricting food intake, bingeing and purging have been shown to alter brain structure, metabolism and neurochemistry in ways that make it difficult for individuals to discontinue the behaviors.
• Eating disorders are associated with impairment in emotional and cognitive functioning that greatly limits life activities.
• Eating disorders are life-threatening illnesses and are associated with numerous medical complications. Mortality rates for anorexia nervosa are the highest of any psychiatric disorder.

As of 2007, the laws of some U.S. states have excluded eating disorders from conditions considered to be “serious mental illnesses,” thus making it possible for patients to be denied insurance coverage for their treatment, leading to serious lifelong health consequences and an increased risk of death. “Eating disorders are associated with the highest level of mortality and medical complications of any psychiatric condition. It is imperative that eating disorders receive the same level and breadth of health care coverage that is available for treatment of medical disorders and other psychiatric conditions,” states AED President Judith Banker.

The Academy for Eating Disorders is a global professional association committed to leadership in eating disorders research, education, treatment, and prevention. The Academy issues position papers on issues of highest concern to the organization in their scientific journal, The International Journal of Eating Disorders. The position paper is available in its entirety on the AED Web site: www.aedweb.org.

Access to treatment also will be an issue raised in the upcoming International Conference on Eating Disorders to be held in Cancun, Mexico April 30 through May 2.

For more information, contact Theresa Fassihi, PhD at +1-832-794-1280 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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Position Statement: Over-the-Counter Status of Ipecac Should Be Withdrawn

Tomas Jose Silber, M.D., M.A.S.S.
Margo Maine, PhD.
Beth Mc Gilley, PhD.


It is imperative that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) withdraw the over-the-counter (OTC) status of Ipecac. Ipecac is an emetic agent that can be misused by people with eating disorders to self-induce vomiting. This type of misuse may result in serious medical complications, including death secondary to cardiotoxicity [1-3]. Moreover, the single medical indication for the use of Ipecac-- the early treatment of poisoning-- is no longer recommended by the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, the European Association of Poison Centers and Clinical Toxicologists, or by the American Academy of Pediatrics [5,6]. Therefore, the Academy for Eating Disorders urges the FDA to withdraw the OTC status of Ipecac.


Ipecac is sold OTC in the United States, in 30 ml bottles containing approximately 21 mg of emetine base [1]. It is well-known that persons afflicted with eating disorders may engage in self- induced vomiting with Ipecac [1,2].  It is difficult to estimate the morbidity and mortality caused by Ipecac abuse among patients with eating disorders, since this is a secret and surreptitious practice. Nevertheless, there is clear and consistent evidence for misuse of Ipecac among patients seen in e ating d isorders p rograms, which has remained consistent over three decades [1,7-8].  If one extrapolates from these data to the entire population, the numbers of those who experiment with, use, and/or abuse Ipecac may indeed be very concerning.

Ipecac is efficacious as an emetic: 85% of those who use it vomit after one dose, 95% after two doses [1,2]. Research has long ago shown that an accumulated dose of only 1.25 grams can result in myopathy and cardiomyopathy [2]. Thus, it comes as no surprise that, with repeated intake, Ipecac is absorbed sufficiently to cause severe complications and even death [1-3].  However, after Ipecac use stops, the muscular and cardiac injury it can cause may be reversible [4]. Thus, withdrawing the OTC status of Ipecac may not only prevent injury and death, but may also allow for recovery from the damage sustained by its inappropriate and prolonged use.

The single medical indication for the use of Ipecac was for the early treatment of poisoning. This practice is now considered obsolete [5,6,9].  In fact, the effectiveness and safety of Ipecac have been repeatedly questioned [5,6]. It is no longer used in Europe, and, as of ten years ago, its use was no longer recommended by leading organizations, such as the American Academy of Clinical Toxicology and the European Association of Poison Centers [5]. In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommended its use for poisonings occurring in the home [6].  These official statements about its lack of usefulness in the management of poisoned patients, coupled with the morbidity and mortality associated with its abuse, led the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research to hold hearings on Ipecac. Following these hearings, the FDA panel of experts recommended that the OTC status of Ipecac be withdrawn [11]. However, the FDA has not yet followed through on this recommendation and has not produced a final ruling.

Ipecac has outlived its clinical-toxicological indications [5,6,9]. It has remained a substance of abuse for individuals with eating disorders [7,8], and it is associated with serious morbidity and mortality [2,3]. However, the bodily harm it causes can often be reversed upon ceasing its use [4]. For all of the above reasons, the Academy for Eating Disorders strongly urges the United States Food and Drug Administration to withdraw the OTC status of Ipecac.


  1. Steffen KJ, Mitchell JE, Roerig JL, Lancaster KL. The eating disorders cabinet revisited: a clinicians guide to Ipecac and laxatives. Int J Eat Disord 2007;40;360-368.
  2. Silber TJ. Ipecac syrup abuse, morbidity and mortality: isn’t it time to repeal its over the counter status? J Adol Health 2005;37;256-260.
  3. Lee L. ODS Postmarketing Survey (PID No D030159 ) Ipecac Executive Summary Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA, May 6th, 2003.
  4. Ho PC, Dweik R, Cohen MC. Rapidly reversible cardiomyopathy associated with chronic ipecac ingestion. Clin Cardio 1998;21;780-783.
  5. Krenzelock EP, Mc Guigan M, Lheur P. Position statement: Ipecac syrup. American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, European Association of Poison centers and clinical toxicologists. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1997;35:699-709.
  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Poison treatment in the home. Pediatrics 2003;112:1182-5.
  7. Greenfeld D, Mickley D, Quinlon DM, Roloff P. Ipecac abuse in a sample of eating disordered outpatients. Int J Eat Disord 1993;13:411-414.
  8. Fischer M,Schneider M, Burns J, et al. Differences between adolescents and young adults at presentation to an eating disorders program. J Adol Health 2001;28;222-227.
  9. Meckatie EP FDA Panel: Ipecac OTC status should be revoked. Pediatric News, July 2003, p.30.


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