Mother of a 17-year-old daughter fighting to recover from Anorexia Nervosa, in Victoria, responding to news that Jenny Craig CEO, Amy Smith, is to address a conference of girls’ school educators in Melbourne:
I have signed the Jenny Craig petition. I don’t have words to describe how this makes me feel. If they (conference organisers, Alliance of Girls Schools Australasia) could spend one night in my household at present…. Anyhow, I would like to let you know that my daughter is out of hospital and back to Year 12 studies at school. We have managed to gain several kg on her. But with each kilo her mental state deteriorates. Her ‘AN friend’ is not going quietly. Without doubt this is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I feel that I am feeding my daughter poison six times a day. Her fury is unbelievable and her threats of self harm completely devastating …
The powerful community and international response to the Jenny Craig petition has inspired its creator, Lydia Jade Turner, to write an Open Letter.
This letter will help maintain the effort to help the conference organisers understand why a diet company CEO is not a wise choice as a keynote speaker. I have signed this letter and invite you to do so, too. Share it with all your friends and networks. To add your signature, and make your voice count, all you need do is:
* Email your name, title, and credentials to firstname.lastname@example.org
We want to gather as many signatures as possible wtihin the next 48 hours. Thanks again for your amazing support. Every voice counts.
This is the letter:
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’, while the hosting school, Melbourne Girls Grammar, has already referred to her as a ‘women’s health advocate’. We reject these notions entirely. 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 Sandiland’s 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 dietitian 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 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 1,600 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.
Write to Lydia today!
PS: Another excellent article by Lydia: Why I led the charge against Jenny – The Drum Opinion (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).