A six-year-old on a juice cleanse! Now that’s news—or at least the pitch for a Toddlers & Tiaras knockoff.
Except maybe it’s not all that newsworthy.
A headline this week in the New York Post, that paragon of journalistic virtue, posed the ominous question: “Should Kids Do Juice Cleanses?” The accompanying story purports to investigate what the tabloid is trying to hype as a growing problem, though the whole thing feels a bit threadbare.
By my count, just four “kids” are featured in the story (not one of which, it's worth noting, is the child of a Hollywood celebrity): 18-year-old Victoria Rodriguez, 17-year-old Emmy Heyman, 13-year-old Kendall Graboff, and yes, “cherub-cheeked” 6-year-old Sofia Davella.
ABC’s Good Morning America swiftly pounced on the story, hosting Heyman and her mom, Joanne, on the nation’s No. 1 morning show. And the “alarming” trend has already leaped across the pond, with the U.K.’s Daily Mail blaring, “How Teenagers as Young as 13 Are Getting Hooked on Their Mothers’ Punishing Juice Cleanse Diets”! That exclamation point may be mine, but still—“hooked”?
The Post story is a prime example of that dubious media tactic of cloaking what amounts to a shameless bid for readers in “concern” for a supposed pressing public health issue. If three makes a trend, then four is an epidemic.
The six-year-old in question? Almost from the get-go we learn that she’s not really, technically, on a juice cleanse. She just likes to cadge her mom’s expensive juices from the fridge instead of reaching for a snack-time Go-Gurt. She apparently still eats regular meals.
In fact, rather than be horrified, parents of picky eaters will no doubt marvel at little Sofia’s culinary repertoire: Her favorite foods include shumai and sautéed kale with edamame. Meanwhile, I have a nephew who refuses to eat chicken noodle soup.
True, the three teenagers featured in the story are a bit more troubling, particularly when they start talking about losing weight. As one M.D., a specialist in adolescent medicine, put it in the Post story, “awareness of cleanses at a very young age could lead to eating disorder behaviors.”
The docs quoted by Good Morning America are more harsh. “Kids don’t need a cleanse; they need good food,” Dr. Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, tells Good Morning America. “A cleanse usually means they’re also excluding necessary food groups and nutrients.”
Dr. David Katz, founder of the Childhood Obesity Journal, can barely seem to dignify the whole thing with a response. “Come on, seriously? A combination of pecuniary exploitation and stupidity—I think that’s all there is to say on the matter.” It’s not clear whether he’s talking about kids on cleanses or about Good Morning America trying to spin this as a bona fide story.
You could chalk it all up to another eye-rolling attempt by the Post et al., to goose up their page views were it not for the disturbing implications of this fledging media-driven “crisis.”
Even as these outlets dutifully trot out doctors and nutritionists to criticize parents who would allow their kids to go on a juice cleanse, this medical tsk-tsking all serves as kind of a monotonous backdrop, like those drug commercials that intone the risks of death while showing happy, healthy couples frolicking on a beach.
The real focus of these stories still seems to be the precocious children and teenagers who beam for the camera, extol the benefits of cleansing, and bond with their moms over a love of what amounts to high-priced snake oil. It’s a recipe for copycats. If we don’t have a real “kids on cleanses” crisis now, we could if it becomes a full-blown media sensation.
When Ayoob says, “Kids don’t need a cleanse, they need good food,” most medical experts would take it a step further: People don’t need a cleanse. Period.
To sum up a wealth of cleanse myth debunking out there, cleanses are stupid. Your body doesn’t need any help “detoxifying”—it takes care of that on its own. Like any crash diet, you’ll lose weight, of course—but you’ll gain it back when you return to eating like you did before. And cleanses can be dangerous, say, for people with undiagnosed kidney disease or diabetes (all that juice throws your blood-sugar levels seriously out of whack).
Your best bet for good health? Steer clear of the processed stuff, and stick to a diet of whole foods that’s rich in fruits and vegetables.
Boring but true—even if it’s not likely to land you a spot on Good Morning America any time soon.