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Report: Federal Dietary Guidelines Put Eating Disorder Sufferers at Risk

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Federal dietary guidelines and government-mandated calorie disclosures can adversely impact people who suffer from restrictive eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, a new Competitive Enterprise Institute report reveals.

“One-size-fits-all government dietary policies, like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and mandatory calorie listings required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, may be aimed at encouraging healthier dietary choices, but those policies can pose real danger for people with restrictive eating disorders,” said Michelle Minton, coauthor of the report, How Federal Policy Puts Eating Disorder Sufferers at Risk.

Around 8 million Americans suffer from clinically significant eating disorders that drive them to develop and maintain unhealthy, sometimes fatal, eating habits. In fact, restrictive eating disorders have among the highest mortality rates of psychiatric disorders, with individuals suffering from anorexia four times more likely to die than even those with major depression.

That’s why over-simplistic, homogenous government advice and messaging on foods people should eat or limit – likewise, prominently displayed, inescapable calorie counts on restaurant menus – can seemingly legitimize or trigger unhealthy behaviors for people with restrictive eating disorders.

The report also casts doubt on the value these policies provide to people without restrictive eating disorders. “When it comes to the general public, overly-broad guidance is often ignored and does little to alter peoples’ consumption patterns,” said report coauthor Connor K. Kianpour, a former CEI research associate.

Instead, public policy should treat nutrition as highly personal, providing consumers with information and recommendations that help them build their own healthy, realistic dietary plan. 

The federal government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans are due for an update sometime this summer.