“The 100-calorie snack benchmark assumes that all children’s needs are the same,” says Tallulah Self, 18, who has a history of anorexia nervosa.
“It’s like saying all cars need the same fuel – and the same amount.”
Tallulah is critical of a campaign launched by Public Health England (PHE) in the new year, urging parents to limit children’s snacks to 100 calories – and to let them have only two a day.
The campaign is aimed at tackling the growing problem of childhood obesity.
But for Tallulah – who spent six months in hospital in 2016 with anorexia – the Change4Life “Look for 100 calorie snacks” adverts touched a raw nerve.
“As someone with experience of an eating disorder, I was angered by the misleading and potentially harmful message, promoting restriction and calorie-counting.
“I messaged a couple of my friends saying, ‘Would it be crazy to make a video about this?’ and I gave myself four days to make a film.”
Tallulah, who has a BTec in media production, recently got a job in London as a film-maker, having decided not to apply to university currently because of her illness.
She decided to use her skills to make a YouTube video, compiling the views of young people who have had eating disorders, parents and bloggers and vloggers.
The contributors express their concern that the Change4Life campaign could be seen to promote a mindset of dieting and calorie-counting.
Tallulah adds: “The diet culture is unavoidable in the media, but this campaign seems to reflect this diet culture and almost puts it on to the future generation, which I don’t think is what we should be teaching them or reinforcing in society.”
Change4Life is only trying to tackle childhood obesity, so why is Tallulah critical?
“Of course obesity is an issue,” says Tallulah.
“I totally support what Change4Life are doing, I just think they’re going about it in a potentially harmful and misleading way.
“Obesity is an issue and needs addressing, but so are eating disorders.
“Yes, maybe a higher proportion of kids have obesity rather than eating disorders, but in terms of what we’re teaching children it shouldn’t be focused on calorie-counting.
“Teaching them that that’s normal is not healthy or sustainable and to those pre-disposed to or with eating disorders, of course it’s harmful.”
What does the Change4Life campaign say in response?
PHE figures show that 34% of children aged 10 and 11 in England are overweight and obese, while 1.3% are underweight.
Almost two-thirds of adults (61%) are overweight or obese and 2% are underweight.
PHE hopes its campaign will empower parents to make healthier snacking choices for their children, as childhood obesity continues to be a problem.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, says: “There’s no doubt people coping with the difficultly of an eating disorder require additional support.
“But with more than a third of children leaving primary school overweight or obese, Change4Life was developed to help tackle the childhood obesity crisis gripping our nation.
“This particular campaign responds directly to parents’ concerns about unhealthy snacks and provides tips to help them choose healthier options.”
Where does Tallulah hope to go from here?
Tallulah hopes her video will make policymakers think twice about the messages they send out.
“I hope the film creates an impact – ultimately reaching PHE,” she says.
“Hopefully they will reconsider the campaign and future campaigns, in the messages they are sending out, how they can be misinterpreted or harmful and how they can affect wider audiences.”
She also hopes that by speaking out about her own struggle, she can help others talk about mental health issues.
“I hope that I can turn my personal battle into something positive by inspiring others, showing them they aren’t alone and also using film and my creativity to challenge stigmas and create conversation.
“As daunting as it is speaking out so publicly – when I’ve held it very close to me and privately for so long – I hope to show others that it’s OK to talk and encourage others to speak out too, as we shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed by mental health issues.”