I spotted this at the supermarket today – Milo branded diet culture for children. It’s an activity tracker for 6-12 year olds. It connects to a mobile phone app where you enter the food they eat to track their diet and energy balance. Parents have full access to the diet and exercise info in the app. Children see their step count and how much energy they’ve burnt.
In a country where discretionary foods are readily available and sedentary lifestyles common this is probably a good idea, right?
Kids and diet culture
Our society is inundated by diet culture and the harmful messages that it promotes:
- that some body types are inherently better than others
- that dieting to try to achieve them is normal behaviour
We should be trying to protect kids from it not encouraging them to participate. Young children are already feeling the effects. 40% of kids are unhappy with their bodies. Dangerous weight control behaviours including restrictive eating and excessive exercise are frighteningly commonplace.
Your child’s body is not a ledger that needs to be balanced precisely each day. Even if it was, this app isn’t a good or accurate way of doing it. Yes, eating more food than your body needs and being inactive can increase your risk of becoming unwell. And yes, there is nothing wrong with encouraging people to engage in health promoting behaviours.
However, this product isn’t really about health. It’s a way for Nestle to market Milo directly to you and your child on a daily basis when you check the app. They even offer exclusive video content in exchange for buying more Milo. Cha-ching! Brand imprinting is a marketing tool that is particularly effective in children. It’s one that food companies tend to use a lot.
We’ve normalised tracking our exercise and eating habits to the point where it seems like an essential part of everyday life.
But it isn’t. In vulnerable people it increases the risk of developing an eating disorder.
Encouraging children to wear tracking devices normalises these behaviours at an early age. It teaches kids that they can’t trust their bodies to let them know what’s right for them. Using the diet tracking part of the app may also encourage parents to restrict their child’s food intake which often backfires and encourages overeating.
What can you do to help?
In her book ‘Your child’s weight: helping without harming’, Ellyn Satter suggests the following:
- Don’t associate exercise with weight! Foster a love of being active for the enjoyment it brings.
- Provide opportunities for kids to experiment with different types of physical activity to find out what they like. Every kid is different and will enjoy different activities.
- Set limits around screen time and remove any TV’s/computers from bedrooms
- Find enjoyable ways to move your bodies as a family. It doesn’t have to be structured exercise everything counts, even dancing around your living room.
If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, exercise or eating habits this book is an excellent read that I cannot recommend highly enough.