Why is the CEO of Jenny Craig presenting at a Girls’ School Conference?

Yesterday it came to our attention that the CEO of Jenny Craig, Amy Smith, will be presenting at the upcoming Alliance for Girls’ Schools Conference in Melbourne. When human rights finalist for 2011 & CEO of  Enlighten Education Dannielle Miller emailed her concerns to the conference organizers, she was told by Ms Catherine Misson, Principal of Melbourne Girls’ Grammar, that Smith was “transforming the organization into a champion of women’s health.”

At BodyMatters we have outlined our concerns (please see below). We would really like to increase pressure to remove the Jenny Craig brand from this conference, and would love it if you could email both Catherine Mission principal@mggs.vic.edu.au and the conference organizers agsa@agsa.org.au to help us achieve this! xx


Dear Catherine,My colleague Sarah McMahon and I are both eating disorders specialists from the eating disorders clinic BodyMatters Australasia (www.bodymatters.com.au). We were informed this morning that Amy Smith, CEO of Jenny Craig, will be presenting at the upcoming AGSA conference.

We are curious as to why the conference will be hosting the CEO of a weight loss company, given the increasing rate of eating disorders and unhealthy weight loss behaviours presenting in young girls.

While the media continues to highlight the problem of childhood ‘obesity’, what is often not reported are the unintended consequences of pursuing weight loss. This includes diet companies that claim to be all about “lifestyle.” When the ultimate goal is a certain number on the scale- rather than the ongoing engagement with health-giving behaviours, we are putting young people at risk of developing eating disorders and a lifetime pattern of unhealthy weight loss practices.

We are sure that as Principal of a prestigious girls’ school, you are aware of the statistics on eating disorders. We would like instead to focus on the great spectrum of girls who do not meet the strict clinical criteria for an eating disorder, yet damage their psychological, spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual health by engaging in the pursuit of weight loss.

As a clinic that provides ongoing consultation to schools in Sydney, this is a tiny snapshot of the kinds of things schools are reporting to us about their girls. Please note that we have deliberately chosen the most common reportings:

– girls competing to see who can eat the least number of calories during lunch time.
– girls treating a student who has been diagnosed with anorexia and released from hospital as a “weight loss guru”
– girls smoking to control their weight (and The Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria reports 8% of teenage girls smoke for this purpose)
– girls ‘water-loading’ in the misguided belief this will “flush” the calories out
– girls reporting that they feel distressed completing their homework because every time they look on the internet, weight loss ads pop up – and they can’t ‘opt out’
– girls abusing caffeine drinks and No-Doz pills believing it will increase their metabolic rate

Some of the girls’ schools have formed student-led groups in response, whose sole task is to deliver healthy body image-related activities and awareness campaigns throughout the school year.

Global giant Jenny Craig markets its approach as not a diet but a “lifestyle” change, portraying itself as a health company that teaches people how to lose weight in a manner that is healthy and realistic. By now you have probably noticed the increase in diet companies that piggy-back on public health messages, claiming that they are not in fact diets, “because diets don’t work.”

This is what the research tells us about diets and any weight loss approach in general: since 1959, numerous studies have demonstrated that there is an approximate failure rate of 95% after 2-5 years. To date, there is no independent research to demonstrate that the Jenny Craig approach leads to sustained weight loss after 2-5 years in the majority of the population. (Perhaps this is why the company offers a 7 year “unlimited comeback privilege,” has history shown that its clients tend to regain weight and need to keep coming back?) So the conference is essentially hosting a commercial diet company with no data to support its approach works.

Jenny Craig’s presence sends a strong message to conference attendees that what matters most is your size. The research does not support that adopting a healthy lifestyle will lead to sustainable (and significant) weight loss for the majority. Despite the health benefits that result from engaging in regular physical activity and healthy eating, many stop in a desperate bid to conform to a more socially accepted norm- and instead engage in unhealthy weight loss methods.

This message- that weight is what matters most- will be sent to attendees, many (if not all) of whom work with young girls. This is the problem.

Rather than focusing on weight, especially for young people- we know that focusing on healthy lifestyle behaviours is what is most important. In fact research shows that fitness is a far better predictor of health than weight. This approach is safe for all – and it avoids the unintended consequences of attempting weight loss which includes food and body preoccupation, binge eating, weight regain and loss, distraction from personal goals, weight stigma and discrimination.

Rather than having Jenny Craig’s CEO present at the conference, we urge you to consider other organizations that might be in tune with what young girls really need. For example, The Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria (http://www.eatingdisorders.org.au/) who adopt a ‘first, do no harm’ approach to health and whose very existence includes the goal to change the cultural tide of toxic body image messages and misleading health and weight claims.

We urge you to reconsider having Jenny Craig’s brand represented at the AGSA conference, and would appreciate a reply from you on this matter. We are also available on 0416 *** *** and welcome your call should you wish to discuss this further.

Best wishes

Lydia & Sarah
For resources please visit the Association for Size Diversity and Health

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