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“Recommended ... A feast of facts.” —Library Journal

“Highly recommended! Truly the best of the best...
An outstanding example.” —CHOICE

Selected as Outstanding Book of the Year!
by CHOICE, American Library Association


Children and Teens Afraid to Eat

Helping Youth in Today's Weight-Obsessed World


Softcover 352 pages $19.95


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Children and Teens Afraid to Eat
Helping Youth in Today’s Weight-Obsessed World

by Frances M. Berg


I CAN'T RECOMMEND THIS BOOK STRONGLY ENOUGH! Ms. Berg writes with compassion while exposing and dispelling many prejudicial beliefs. . . . One of the best messages that this book expresses is the basic human right to be treated as an individual.

—Journal of Family Life

THE AUTHOR PRESENTS A COMPELLING CASE . . . Anyone who works in the area of weight control and disordered eating will want a copy of this book on his or her shelf. . . . The discussion on how to help overweight children and children with eating disorders is very well written, featuring excellent tables that highlight practical tips for parents and for nutrition educators.

Journal of the American Dietetic Association


AS SCHOOL NURSES WE REGULARLY ENCOUNTER students who may be struggling with negative body images and inappropriate eating attitudes and behaviors. Afraid to Eat provides insight into this nationwide weight-loss and thinness obsession, and offers assistance . . . Clear guidelines are presented.

School Nurse News Academy


BERG SERVES UP A FEAST OF FACTS on four major problems: dysfunctional eating, eating disorders, size prejudice, and overweight. Condemning “diets,” she instead proposes a wellness paradigm based on the Canadian “vitality” model, which calls for moderation in eating habits and an active, playful lifestyle. The book contains advice for parents but emphasizes that social change is needed in schools, organized sports, and federal policies that focus too narrowly on antiobesity. Unlike other books on this topic, the unique problems of boys and minority children are also explored. Berg’s book is a valuable consciousness raiser. Recommended for public libraries for both parents and concerned professionals.

—Library Journal


WHAT CAN WE DO TO COMBAT destructive influences and feelings about weight? According to Berg, it must begin with food. Setting a nutritionally-sound example, encouraging regular exercise, questioning advertising and role model images and focusing on accepting kids for who they are, rather than what they look like, she says.

—The New York Post

AS THE PARENT of a daughter who acquired a serious eating disorder in her teens, I can only wish that Frances Berg’s book had come along sooner, and health and education professionals had heeded its advice years ago. Thankfully we have it now . . . Long overdue.

—William J. Fabrey
Director, Council on Size & Weight Discrimination

BERG POINTS OUT HOW the medical profession’s insistence on achievement of ideal weight as a national health priority has reinforced and validated this obsession with body size and shape. Instead of improved health, efforts that were supposed to help people manage their weight, have backfired, contributing to an epidemic of body dissatisfaction, size discrimination, restrictive eating, bizarre eating disorders, poor nutrition, and increased depression, anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem among our nation’s youth.

—Joanne Ikeda, MA, RD
California Extension Nutrition Education Specialist

BEST OF ALL, Berg provides many practical solutions to the problems she addresses. This is more than a penetrating analysis of a major public health problem; it is also a how-to book of solutions. This is a book on healthy living that goes beyond the physical to mental and social health.

People interested in eating disorders will love this book. It is must reading for people who don’t know about eating disorders, but do have daughters or know other young women they are concerned about.

—National Council Against Health Fraud Newsletter


AN INDISPENSABLE RESOURCE. . . Berg, founder and editor of Healthy Weight Journal, has read just about everything written on this subject and probably has the most comprehensive library on the topic anywhere in the world. Her jewel of a book is a wake-up call to health education professionals to address all aspects of the problem. . . This is not light reading. But it is extremely interesting.

—BBW: Big Beautiful Woman


TEACHERS WILL BENEFIT from the discussion of goals for elementary students, advice on how to spot weight problems in athletes and best address body image and self-esteem. Berg, a national expert in healthy weight education and weight loss fraud, insists that we must allow our children to eat without fear . . . It is a major health crisis when more than two-thirds of high school girls are dieting, one-half are severely undernourished and one-third are occasionally smoking, mostly in an effort to be thinner. . . . Teenage boys mirror these same problems to a lesser extent.

Children and Teens Afraid to Eat promotes a n ew health paradigm for children. If today’s children are to grow up with normal eating habits, changes must come in attitudes, lifestyle, society and national health policy.

—Rochester Times Union, Rochester, N.Y.


THERE’S A SILENT EPIDEMIC so large and extreme, it could only happen in this weight-obsessed culture: children’s fear of eating. Six-year-olds understand that fat is undesirable and by fourth grade, 40 percent or more of girls “diet” at least occasionally. A survey of young girls revealed that they were more afraid of becoming fat than they were of cancer, nuclear war or losing their parents.

The good news is that Healthy Weight Journal editor Berg, is out to change these attitudes. Her call to action is loud, clear, and above all, provides the framework for change. Anyone involved in shaping the eating habits of the young must read this book, especially parents and teachers.

—CHOICE, American Library Association


CHILDREN AND TEENS AFRAID TO EAT IS A MUST READ for teachers. The pressures caused by the weight crisis are affecting academic achievement in our youth. It’s time for school staff and students to become aware of the size bias pandemic and its consequences, and mobilize to liberate all students to achieve their fullest potential.

—Linda L. Johnson, MS
Director School Health Programs
Department of Public Education, ND


A MUCH NEEDED BOOK . . . Berg dares to speak out on behalf of parents, educators, health professionals, and all members of society. The news (on nutrient deficiencies) should be alarming, but the media’s attention is fixated on obesity fear rather than long-term health.

Berg skillfully uses personal accounts to depict the horrific pain that large children and teens endure. This is an issue that should touch our hearts deeply, make us angry, and give us motivation to bring about change in our school system. Inspires the reader to action.

Journal of Treatment & Prevention

A GOOD BLEND of fact and research with personal experiences. Setting the stage for disordered eating by the family, the school (teachers, peers, coaches) and health professionals is discussed along with tips on danger signs and how disordered eating can be remedied. Weight issues among males and ethnic groups are also discussed.

The book contains many tables, charts and an appendix to emphasize main points and for easy reference. This book is a resource for parents, teachers, coaches and health professionals.

—Pediatric Nutrition


AN EXTRAORDINARY contribution to both professionals and the public . . . Identifies the cultural, social, physiological, emotional and spiritual issues facing kids today and how these issues collide, resulting in a generation of kids afraid to eat. Ms. Berg is an award winning writer and has a gift for gathering and clearly explaining how these forces influence our children relationally and developmentally.

A useful chart details dysfunctional eating from inconsistent eating to eating disorders. The book is also a storehouse of charts, graphs, lists, and short articles essential to nutrition professionals working with children and adolescents. Whether you are a workshop leader, counselor, author, educator, coach or in marketing and advertising, these resources will be valuable time after time. Children and Teens Afraid to Eat demands that as a nation and as health care professionals we deal with these issues in healthier, more effective ways.

PULSE:Dietitians in Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness

A GROUND-BREAKING BOOK about an issue in our culture that is affecting almost every child in ways that range from detrimental to disastrous. . . . We need a national awareness of an intolerable situation that will not self-correct. Afraid to Eat needs to be read, discussed, argued about, and acted upon.

—Academy for Eating Disorders Newsletter

CHILDREN AND TEENS AFRAID TO EAT indicts society for this obsession with thinness . . . the obsession and its consequences amount to perpetrating fraud on innocent children. This insightful book shows how to challenge the status quo, and it’s easy to read, too.

— Kentucky Currents, Kentucky Dietetic Association


ANYONE WHO HAS CHILDREN OR WORKS WITH CHILDREN should read this book! In a land of plenty, our children are starving because they are afraid to eat. Berg not only reveals the truth about how we have instilled the fear to eat in our children, but provides suggestions on how to change what we have done.

—Wayne C. Miller, PhD
Professor, Exercise Science and Nutrition
George Washington University Medical Center


by What’s New in Family and Consumer Science

CHILDREN AND TEENS AFRAID TO EAT DEFINES THE PROBLEMS of eating in detail, is factual, well documented, and gives many ideas about what could be done. It points the finger where it belongs. There are a number of ways to think about and deal with size at all ages. This is very well done. All the information is well documented by quality sources. This book would be excellent for Family Consumer Science college students, reports for health classes, resources for adults who need guidance and information . . . (and) a source of comfort for the parent of a child with eating problems.

What’s New in FCS Awards evaluation


AFRAID TO EAT IS ONE OF THE MOST important books of the decade. Frances Berg has articulated the dimensions of a problem which is growing more critical every day — a problem which will not go away unless major shifts occur in our own attitudes and in some of our official public policies. Only someone with Ms. Berg’s unique vantage point as editor of Healthy Weight Journal is in a position to see and define so clearly the damage being done to our children by current approaches to weight in our society. An excellent work! Clear, reasonable strategies to change the status quo that can be immediately adopted by parents, teachers, health professionals and policy makers.

—Karen A. Petersmarck, PhD, MPH, RD
Michigan Department of Community Health


BERG ALSO BLAMES America’s approach to food... misguided notions about weight and food have led to a range of problems, including obesity, eating disorders, eating dysfunction and size prejudice.

—Los Angeles Times


AFRAID TO EAT IS ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS I HAVE ENCOUNTERED... thorough, engaging and motivating... well presented and easy to follow.

—Marie Cochrane, Director
National Institute for Compulsive Eaters


BERG CHALLENGES THE IDEAL of being thin and documents the profound mental and physical effects on children and teens. Her book also offers useful guidelines for making changes.

—Dallas Family

A SUPERB JOB of pulling together the facts and research! Afraid to Eat equips educators to work with teens with confidence. Thoughtful insight . . . detailed.

—Linda Omichinski, RD
President, HUGS International

PARENTS SHOULD STOP DIETING NOW, instead of running after new weight loss programs and products while their kids watch their bizarre behavior, thinking it’s normal, according to Berg.

—All About Kids, Cincinnatti


BERG BELIEVES THE DESIRE TO CONTROL WEIGHT drives young girls to unhealthy behaviors like diet pills and smoking... Size prejudice is so extreme that Afraid to Eat dedicates a whole chapter to it. In some cases this prejudice is deadly. The news has carried reports of larger adolescents who so dreaded the daily torments from peers that they killed themselves.

—Fargo Forum

THIS IS THE FIRST BOOK to present the devastating effects of our culture’s obsession with thinness and dieting on all of our children. It should serve as a call to action for all parents, educators and health care professionals in America.

—Joseph McVoy, PhD, Director Eating Disorders, Radford, VA


AFRAID TO EAT ADDRESSES THE GROWING PROBLEM of children who live in an environment that gives them inappropriate messages about their body weight, size and shape.

The author explains with example after example how poorly the nation has dealt with weight issues in the past. She points out how the old ways have not worked and examines new approaches to deal with weight issues in healthy ways.

A call to action with specific steps to address the current situation gives the reader concrete ways to address the crisis.

—Ventures, Nutrition Entrepreneurs
American Dietetic Association




Children and Teens Afraid to Eat
Helping Youth in Today’s Weight-Obsessed World

by Frances M. Berg


Nourish the mind, body and spirit
Healthy living choices nourish the mind, body and spirit. They include nutritious eating, active living, and having a positive attitude toward life.

So how do we create an atmosphere that makes healthy choices for youngsters easy and fun, and show them it’s the natural way to live? It involves families, teachers, schools, health professionals and communities.

“Feeling good about yourself starts by accepting who you are and how you look,” the Canadian Vitality program reminds us. “Think positive thoughts. Laugh a lot. Spend some time with people who have a positive attitude — the type who look at the cup as being half full, not half empty. Positive vibes are contagious. Enjoy eating well and being active. Feel good about yourself. Have fun with family and friends, and you’ll feel on top of the world!”

Talk to the child – and listen
It’s important that families talk to each other — the small talk, the praise and reassurances . . . Talking about feelings is not always easy, but it helps if moms and dads will ask, “How do you feel about that?” and then listen, without offering advice. Helpful parents will listen quietly when kids want to talk, giving their undivided attention. Acknowledge their feelings in a noncommittal way, “Oh . . . Hmmm . . . I see . . .” Give the feeling a name, “That sounds frustrating.” Encourage and trust the child to explore solutions, without taking over.

Healthy living lasts a lifetime
This new approach asks: How can we gradually shift to healthier habits that will last a lifetime? How can we prevent the onset of eating and weight problems? Following these three principles will help us make this shift:

1. Eat well. Think of food as a friend — celebrate, enjoy, taste, savor . . .

2. Live actively. Help children celebrate activity as a natural and joyful part of their lives. . . .

3. Feel good about yourself and others. Celebrate and enjoy every child’s special traits and talents.

Prevention in schools
Many schools are well on their way to shifting physical education emphasis toward keeping all youngsters active in ways that last a lifetime. These schools focus on getting all kids involved, less on winning games, grooming star athletes, and showcasing spectator sports. They don’t excuse youngsters with special needs from PE, but broaden programs to include them. . . .

Preventive programs are most promising when they have first assessed the need and timing for prevention, then deliver the program about one year before the age when the behavior starts.

There is a great need to support teen girls by increasing social support and mentoring, reducing environmental stressors like sexual harassment and teasing, transforming girls’ lives by reducing the importance of appearance, and changing institutions such as the mass media that disempower them.

Teachers tell me that they see girl after girl in the lunchroom choosing the salad bar over main-course meals, and coming out with only a small plate of lettuce. “I hope they are making up for it with healthy meals at home,” one teacher said. Then she sighed — we both knew it wasn’t happening at home, either . . .

Schools reflect society’s obsession with thinness and scorn for large people. The pressure, the harassment is all there — between students, between teachers, between students and teachers, in the classrooms and in the halls. . . .

Helping the larger child
The large child needs lots of love and attention, as do all children, and to be reassured of parental love regardless of weight. Diets and weight loss programs are not an option, since they disrupt normal eating, will likely fail, and may set up a lifelong pattern of excessive weight gain following weight loss.

Eat well, eat meals
Restoring normal eating is a priority for those who have restricted their eating, or who habitually overeat. Unfortunately, today many parents are so confused and fearful of their own eating, weight and health, that their fears are multiplied in their children. They need to stop dieting, stop talking about hips and stomachs and thighs, and realize that their own attitudes and behaviors may contribute to their children’s eating and weight problems. Giving oneself a year to normalize eating will make a great difference . . . Ellyn Satter is adamant about family meals. “Meals are as essential for nurturing as they are for nutrition . . . Without meals, a home is just a place to stay.” . . . It is when parents don’t live up to their feeding responsibilities or intrude on the child’s prerogatives that feeding difficulties and disturbances of food regulation occur. Parents may fail to get a meal on the table, then try to control what and how much their child eats.

Shifting to a child-friendly culture
Changing culture is a monumental task, but it is possible. Strong forces and powerful commercial interests have molded today’s society, and change won’t be easy, nor will it happen overnight. But each of us can make a difference, starting now . . . People are ready for a change. They are hungry for messages of body acceptance, self-trust, normalized eating, freedom from dieting, balance, and getting on with life . . .

Official recognition of eating disorders is, I believe, the key to bringing about needed change in federal policy. In the United States we have about 16 million girls between the ages of 13 and 20, according to the last census. If 10 percent of these girls have clinical eating disorders, and one-fourth are severely undernourished, what are the numbers here? Are they enough to gain a politician’s attention?

When eating disorders and related problems get the attention they need, policy makers will be forced to change their approach to obesity, so as not to exacerbate eating problems. A health-centered approach is the only logical one when we look at the big picture.

Our culture fails to nurture its youth
America’s children are afraid to eat. It’s a fear that consumes them, shatters lives, even kills. It’s an obsession that dims their joy, their curiosity, their energy and their sense of what’s normal. It’s taking the fun from their teenage years. . . .

Modern culture is youth-centered, yet in many ways it does not provide an environment that is nurturing or supportive for the healthy growth and development of our children. In fact, it nurtures serious problems. . .

Appearance and, above all, thinness are the criteria by which girls are being judged. Magazines for teenage girls give training in lookism where the emphasis is on makeup, fashion, weight and how to attract boys, with almost no space given to sports, hobbies, careers or healthy body image attitudes. Young readers are being sold to advertisers through articles and editorial copy linked to the ads. Boys, too, are being taught body dissatisfaction through advertising and the many new “muscle” magazines.

Today’s crisis: six major eating and weight problems:

1. Dysfunctional eating. Disturbed, chaotic, disordered eating has become the norm for kids. They are dieting, fasting, bingeing, skipping meals, undereating and overeating.

2. Undernourishment of teenage girls. Teen girls have the poorest nutrition of any group in America. Yet their widespread undernourishment and malnourishment go largely unnoticed, ignored by the policy makers who should care the most.

3. Hazardous weight loss. The methods kids use to lose weight can be extremely dangerous — vomiting, smoking, fasting, and taking laxatives, diuretics, diet pills. They can have lasting harmful effects, and even kill.

4. Eating disorders. Extremely difficult to treat, eating disorders devastate families and claim many lives, a significant number from suicide. But their prevention and treatment is largely ignored in U.S. health policy. “The public is silent when young women die,” charges Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth.

5. Size prejudice. Large kids are easy targets for cruel and isolating taunts from their peers and others. Yet the harassment and stigma of size prejudice hurts youth of all sizes — in today’s milieu no one is thin enough or perfectly shaped enough to feel safe. And some, especially boys, are stigmatized because of small stature or thinness.

6. Overweight. More kids are overweight today than ever before, yet we seemingly have no means to help them. Prevention efforts other than scare tactics have not moved forward, perhaps because most people still believe weight loss is fairly easy and safe. Research proves otherwise.These six problems are interrelated and are intensifying. What affects one, affects others.

Size pre judice punishes large children
Large children and teens often live with vicious prejudice from classmates, parents and teachers, which can interfere with their ability to grow into self-assured, successful adults. Disrespect for their size can be painful for youth who are taller, shorter, or thinner than most, but it is especially cruel and abusive to larger kids.

Teen girls poorly nourished
Teenage girls have the poorest nutrition of any group in America. Taken as a whole, their diets are deficient in many important nutrients and in total calories. Yet this is a time in their lives when they have critical needs for growth and body development. . . .

The appalling truth is that over half of teenage girls do not eat enough for health, energy and strength. They do not eat enough to feel or look their best. But it is the lower 25 percent of girls — the hungry one-fourth — who are at most risk. . . .

Looking at iron intake, girls at the 25th percentile get less than half the iron they need, and at the 10th only one-third . . . In London, investigators recently found that one in four girls age 11 to 18 may be damaging their intelligence by dieting and depriving themselves of iron. “We were surprised that a very small drop in iron levels caused a fall in IQ,” said Michael Nelson, PhD, study author and senior lecturer in nutrition at King’s College, London. “We conclude that poor iron status is common among British adolescent girls and that diet and iron status play an important role in determining IQ”

The calcium situation is even worse. The effects can be physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual. And they can be long-lasting.

Eating disorders: a full-time job for the child
An eating disorder is an unpleasant full-time occupation, terrifying in the way it takes over a child’s life and that of her or his family. Yet we have reached a point in modern society where young women eye the skeletal forms of anorexic students hovering at the edges of their classes and murmur in envy, “Wish I could control my eating like she does. Wish I could be that thin!”

While eating disorders may carry a certain aura of glamour for some, in truth they offer not sophistication, but the deadening opposite. They expose the raw state of advanced starvation, a human being at her lowest survival level, losing even her sense of humanity, compassion and love. How can this be called attractive or desirable?

“I have many regrets. I lost a number of friends, hurt a lot of people I care about,” laments one young woman.

Dangerous weight loss
There are a hundred and more ways to lose weight. This alone should tell us something: none work. If even one method worked in a safe way, the others would speedily disappear.

Worse, many of today’s quick fixes are outright dangerous, causing serious injury and sometimes death. Yet kids and adults are trying them all, often with a terrible sense of desperation that if they only try hard enough, they’ll hit on the miracle cure.

But is the cure for obesity worse than the condition? This is the question asked by the distinguished editors of the New England Journal of Medicine in their 1998 New Year’s Day editorial. The editorial said flatly that weight loss is not effective, that it involves serious health risks, and that it is untrue that the risks of obesity are so high this kind of treatment is justified. It was a breath of fresh air, indeed. The answer is, yes, in many cases the cure is worse.

If this industry made cars, no one would buy them, and if they did, consumer groups would force a recall. If the diet industry promised any other health service, it would be required to prove safety and effectiveness. It would be held accountable for the harm it does. Instead, the weight loss industry’s unproven experiments are prescribed to millions of unsuspecting consumers — as were both the disastrous very low calorie diets and the fen-phen/Redux diet pills.







PART I: Children and Teens in Weight Crisis

Growing up afraid to eat

Our culture fails to nurture its youth
Dysfunctional eating disrupts normal life
Undernourishment of teenage girls
Hazardous weight loss
Eating disorders shatter young lives
Size prejudice punishes large children
Weights continue to rise
Lifestyle choices increase problems
PART II: Helping Youth in a Weight-Obsessed World

Health at Any Size

In the family

Prevention in schools

Healthy choices

Changing to a child-friendly culture

Call to action









Book Listing Information


Children and Teens Afraid to Eat

Helping Youth in Today's Weight-Obsessed World


Frances M. Berg, MS, LN


Healthy Weight Network
Hettinger, ND


0-918532-55-8 softcover $19.95

0-918532-56-6 hardcover $27.95



6 x 9,     352 pages

Publication Date:

2001, Third Edition




Charts, graphs

Target Audience:

Parents, teachers, health professionals

Distributed by:

Independent Publishers Group, Baker & Taylor, Midwest Library Service, Healthy Weight Network; Available in bookstores everywhere and online book stores including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Children and Teens Afraid to Eat
Children and Teens Afraid to Eat, by Frances M. Berg, challenges America's obsession with thinness, documents the harm it is causing, and gives clear guidelines on how parents and professionals can make health-centered changes. This new 2001 edition describes six major problems (dysfunctional eating, undernourishment of teenage girls, hazardous weight loss, eating disorders, size prejudice and overweight), and cites research that shows these problems are intensifying. The author advocates a health at any size approach in which all children receive consistent messages to eat well, live actively, and feel good about themselves and others. She emphasizes that social change is needed in schools, media, and federal policy. First published in 1997, this book is being used extensively in schools and health clinics, and is highly recommended by health, nutrition, and library sources.



Softcover 496 pages





Softcover 352 pages




Softcover 384 pages
















Copyright 2009-1994 by Frances M. Berg, Healthy Weight Network, Hettinger, North Dakota
All rights reserved. www.healthyweight.net