Health experts have warned an Australian weight-loss trial for obese teenagers could trigger eating disorders and cause serious psychological harm to participants.
Fast Track to Health (FTTH), which is underway at hospitals in Sydney and Melbourne, puts children as young as 13 on stringent fasting plans for one year.
Participants are at times limited to only one-quarter of their daily recommended energy intake.
Those behind the programs at Sydney’s Westmead Children’s Hospital and Melbourne’s Monash Health believe it will help fight obesity in Australia.
Federal Government statistics released last year revealed one-quarter of Australian children between the ages of two and 17 were overweight or obese in 2014-15.
The data also showed almost two-thirds of all Australians were overweight or obese.
Melbourne teenager Jess Quin knows the personal toll of an eating disorder.
When she was 14, Jess became obsessed with calorie counting, lost a quarter of her body weight and began withdrawing from her family before being diagnosed with anorexia.
Jess recovered from the disorder and credits a specialist program at Monash Health with saving her life.
“The children who are involved in this trial are overweight by Body Mass Index standards and so was I before my eating disorder,” she said.
“I know the position they are in and I know how easily it can turn from something so innocent into something serious.”
FTTH tests two different diet plans on obese teenagers between the ages of 13-17.
Participants are split into two groups, and both start by completing a four-week fasting diet of between 700 and 800 calories per day — about a quarter of a healthy teenager’s recommended energy intake.
Teenagers in the trial are limited to one small meal per day, as well as three to four meal replacements like shakes and protein bars during this period.
One group then continues this low-energy diet for three days per week, while the second group begins a more normal reduced-calorie diet plan.
Clinical psychologist Louise Adams has over 18 years’ experience working with eating disorder patients, and sent a letter signed by 29 health professionals to the ethics panels that approved the trial, calling for it to be suspended.
She said children “were not guinea pigs”.
Source: ABC News
If you or anyone you know needs help with an eating disorder:
Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673
National Eating Disorders Collaboration
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Headspace on 1800 650 890