Just this morning, an email was sent out to Alliance schools across Australia, in protest of Jenny Craig’s CEO presenting at the Alliance of Girls’ Schools (AGSA) conference:
Dear Principal, parents and members of staff:
As many of you know, the choice of Jenny Craig’s CEO, Ms Amy Smith, as keynote speaker at the upcoming Alliance of Girls’ School conference (AGSA) to be held in Melbourne 25-27 May, was met with widespread concern from many members of the community including leading educators and health professionals. After my initial attempts to discuss these concerns with Jan Butler, the Alliance’s Executive Officer, were unsuccessful (she refused to discuss the matter) an on-line petition was initiated. Although this petition attracted almost 2,000 signatures, and a lot of media attention, the Alliance has remained unwilling to reconsider its decision.
Due to this lack of action on behalf of the AGSA, over 145 international health experts have now signed an open letter calling for the CEO of Jenny Craig to be removed as keynote speaker. The signatories wish me to pass this letter on to you which I am doing here.
Please find below the open letter, and the list of signatures.
It is important for you to know that In addition to this letter, the international peak professional eating disorders bodies, the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), and the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) have both made public statements calling for Jenny Craig’s CEO to be removed. You can view them here and here.
The Australian & NZ peak professional eating disorders body, the Australian & New Zealand Academy for Eating Disorders (ANZAED), has similarly released a statement.
The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) sent a letter to the AGSA highlighting the harms of having Jenny Craig’s CEO as speaker .With their permission I have also attached it here (please see attached).
As health professionals who specialise in the field of health and weight, we hope our concerns on this matter will lead to a change of heart and a willingness to listen.
We trust you appreciate our desire to ensure our very real concerns are being heard.
Lydia Jade Turner
We, the undersigned, are calling for the Alliance of Girls’ Schools to remove Jenny Craig’s CEO, Amy Smith, as keynote speaker from the upcoming conference titled ‘Images of a Girl: Diversity, Dilemmas and Future Possibilities’.
We are aware that Ms Smith has been listed on the conference outline as a ‘women’s rights activist’, and will be talking about the ‘inequality of girls’ and the ‘economic standing of women.’ The hosting school, Melbourne Girls Grammar, has already referred to her as a ‘women’s health advocate’. We reject these notions. We cannot accept that the CEO of a company that peddles diets that set women up to fail, a company that has previously defended its sponsorship of the ‘Kyle and Jackie O’ show despite Kyle Sandilands’ long history of fat-shaming and sexist comments directed at women, could be positioned as such. In fact, we argue that the Jenny Craig brand is actually contributing to girls’ body dissatisfaction and harmful (and ineffective) weight loss practices.
As health professionals, we are aware that dieting is the single biggest predictor of an eating disorder, while also leading to binge eating, cycles of weight regain and loss, reduced self-esteem, food and body preoccupation, weight stigma and discrimination, and future weight gain. The multi-billion-dollar dieting industry – of which Jenny Craig is a global leader – is causing significant harm to girls.
Particularly for young people, when the focus is on weight rather than health, the risk factors for dysfunctional eating significantly increase. As health experts, we know that unhealthy weight loss practices are becoming the norm in schools, with some girls competing to see who can eat the least number of calories at lunch, while others see peers diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa as weight loss ‘gurus’ to seek advice from. By the age of 17, 90% of girls will have been on a diet of some kind, while The Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria reports 8% of teenage girls smoke to control their weight.
With the public’s dawning awareness that diets don’t work, many diet companies now pitch themselves as ‘not a diet’ but a ‘lifestyle’. According to leading psychotherapist specializing in eating and weight struggles, and author of The Diet Survivor’s Handbook, Judith Matz, any time food is manipulated for the goal of weight loss, you are being sold a diet. And regardless of how a diet company markets itself, since 1959, numerous studies have demonstrated that diets carry a 95-98% failure rate after 2-5 years. Diets set people up to lose weight in the short term, but as long-term studies show, the weight doesn’t stay off.
To date, there is no independent research to show that Jenny Craig’s diet is any more effective than other diets on the market over time. The research that Jenny Craig has conducted on its diet approach has been described by psychologist Dr Deb Burgard as the ‘research equivalent of a photoshopped fashion shoot‘. Jenny Craig relies on celebrity endorsements to sell its 12-week prepackaged food programme.
On March 30, speaking on ‘The Morning Show’, the vice president of the Alliance of Girls’ Schools, Judith Poole, would not rule out the possibility that Jenny Craig’s CEO would talk about health and weight issues. We are greatly alarmed by this. Health professionals have voiced their concerns from as far as the United States and Middle East, and more than 1,900 people have signed a petition calling upon the Alliance to remove Jenny Craig’s CEO from the conference line-up. We have tried repeatedly to engage in a discussion with the Alliance, even offering assistance, but we have been told that no discussion is to be had.
We respect the Alliance as education experts; and as health experts, we would also hope our opinion would be valued. Regardless of the topic she speaks about, having the CEO of Jenny Craig as a keynote speaker requires educators to turn a blind eye to the real harm that the diet industry causes to girls. We urge you to tell the Alliance to remove Jenny Craig’s CEO as a presenter at the conference, for the health, happiness and welfare of girls.