The Story So Far
The “Fast Track to Health” trial is a weight loss experiment targeting teenagers aged 13 -17. In the trial, teenagers will be placed on a very low calorie diet (less than 800 calories a day) for a month, and then subjected to 3 days per week of fasting for 11 months. The severity of calorie restriction over such a prolonged period of time alarmed thousands of health professionals around the world.
Numerous complaints to the Fast Track Trial's Ethics committee have been submitted, and a petition signed by
20 000 people has called for it to be stopped. This level of protest is unprecedented in weight loss research.
Health professionals are worried about the trial because crash dieting is well established in research as the number one risk factor for eating disorder development in teens. Deliberately exposing vulnerable teens to such an extreme diet regime is not worth the risk.
Risks Of Very Low Calorie Dieting
Although intermittent fasting has become trendy, the biological reality is that people who diet in this way are restricting their calories to an extremely severe level.
Any diet which recommends a daily calorie intake of less than 800 calories a day is by definition a starvation or very low calorie diet.
Teenagers recruited to the Fast Track Trial will be required to follow a starvation diet on a daily basis for a full month at the outset of the experiment. The teens' daily calorie allowance for the first month is below that required for a 2 year old toddler.
After the initial month of the starvation diet, the children will be randomly chosen to be in a 'standard' low calorie diet group, or the 'fasting' group. The fasting group will endure a very low calorie diet of just 600-700 calories a day for 3 days of the week, for the rest of the year. This level of restriction is severe and prolonged. The impact of such a high level of restriction on their growth and development is likely to be significant. Regardless of BMI, all adolescents have the right to adequate nutrition.
Risks Triggering Eating Disorder
The risk of eating disorder development is at its peak in adolescence, the target age of the Fast Track Trial. Severe dieting is the number one risk factor for eating disorder development.
The Fast Track researchers are claiming that ‘hospital based multidisciplinary treatment clinics’ are safe and do not lead to eating disorders. However this claim is based on their own unpublished review study, with short follow up periods and inadequate eating disorder screening measures.
The Fast Track research team's claims are in conflict with the entire body of longitudinal knowledge on eating disorder development.
Because of the level of risk, several major eating disorder organisations both in Australia and internationally have called for the Fast Track Trial to be stopped.
"We are concerned that an approach that has not yet shown long-term sustainability in adults is being trialled in a vulnerable adolescent population at greatest risk of developing an eating disorder."
-Statement from the Australian & New Zealand Academy of Eating Disorders, (ANZAED).
Image from fasttracktrial.com
Fasting Is No Different To Other Diets: It Doesn't Work
As well as posing an extreme risk for eating disorder development, intermittent fasting diets such as the Fast Track Trial are ineffective for lasting weight loss.
Even the pilot study of the Fast Track itself showed that any weight loss is likely to be minimal (less than 4 kg) and followed by weight regain.
The Harvard School of Public Health reviewed the evidence for intermittent fasting and found it to be no different to other forms of dieting in the long term, and specifically advised against its use in adolescents.
Exposing vulnerable teenagers to such a high risk activity without any evidence of efficacy is unacceptable.
We believe that parents and teenagers are not being given adequate information regarding the risks of eating disorder development or the low likelihood of lasting weight loss. We have designed this website as an information hub. We have included detailed information regarding the scientific evidence on intermittent fasting and the Fast Track pilot study's results. We have included detailed information about the research evidence on the relationship between strict dieting and eating disorders. You can also find out more about the multiple complaints lodged by concerned health professionals, and hear the responses from the Fast Track team. And importantly, we have included alternatives so that if you are concerned about your teenager's weight and/or health, you can get some help which will not harm.
The petition to Stop The Fast Track Trial was launched late in 2018, and 20 000 people have signed it. The petition calls for this trial to be stopped. Health professionals around the world have signed, as have thousands of people with lived experience of dieting as a teenager and developing an eating disorder as a result.
These voices MATTER.
What You Can Do
You can read and sign the petition here.