Trendy Cleanses for Kids Alarm Doctors

Mom-daughter cleansing is not a good parental message, experts say.

ByABC News
April 3, 2014, 4:29 PM
The health benefits of juice cleanses for kids is being questioned.
The health benefits of juice cleanses for kids is being questioned.
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April 3, 2014— -- Joanne Heyman and her 17-year-old daughter Emmy are part of a growing trend -- sharing a love of organic cleanses that come in flavors like lemon cayenne agave and cashew vanilla cinnamon.

The mother-daughter pair from Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., are on a five-day cleansing program because dad was out of town. They say it’s all about health benefits and not diet, though both say they are looking forward to losing a few pounds. They have chosen the toughest cleanse with green juices -- "Excavation."

"I think of it more as a personal challenge to see if I can go through with it," Emmy told ABC News' "Good Morning America." "I feel a little weak and I'm a little tired, but I'm not hungry."

"Today, I was on a field trip and people had baked goods and I didn't have one," said Emmy, who has been intrigued with cleansing since she was younger.

Heyman, 51, said she wouldn't let her daughter do it if there were health risks.

"It's five days," she told "GMA." "We eat an incredibly healthy diet normally. For five days it's an experiment, not a life event."

And Emmy isn’t the only child into cleansing.

Just this week, the New York Post reported that “cherub-cheeked” children as young as 6 were reaching for their mommies’ green-and-purple juices with names like “Fountain of Youth” and “Glo.” One little girl drinks three a day.

“I get upset -- they’re expensive, up to $80 a day,” Sandra Davella, a 44-year-old mother and banker, told The Post. “I have to buy extra because I know she’s going to take it. ... She’s not a French fry kid.”

Some mothers brag that using these organic, designer drinks as a replacement for ordinary snacks are “complete nutrition.”

Everyone knows fruits and vegetables are good for kids, but experts say no child should replace the real thing with colorful, expensive juice and fruit drinks. And doctors warn that this raw juice cleansing trend -- so popular among women into fitness and trim physiques -- can be dangerous for children.

Some say the cleansing with over-the-counter products could lead to anorexia, which is as much a public health concern as obesity.

“Any of these could be harmful for a variety of reasons,” said Dr. Stephen Cook, of Golisano Children's Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “First, you never really know what is in them and they are probably also lacking in key nutrients, vitamins and minerals.”

“This trend is outrageous and a real concern,” said Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. “Kids don’t need a cleanse, they need good food. A cleanse usually means they’re also excluding necessary food groups and nutrients.”

He said it’s not a good idea for teens trying to lose weight either, as any pounds dropped are “temporary.”

“If you are losing 10 pounds in 10 days, then you’re mostly losing water and muscle mass, and that’s not good for children,” he said. “As meal replacements, this does nothing to train children to have good eating habits for the long-term. Of course, they learn what they’re seeing, so their parents may need to be better role models, as well. This is ridiculously expensive nutrition. Good nutrition can be and is much more economical. A perfect example of how complicated doesn’t mean better.”

What would Ayoob tell parents about this new trend? “The digestive tract already is a juicer -- it just works more slowly. But that’s fine and how it was meant to work. Besides, everyone -- kids included -- needs fiber and eating whole fruits and vegetables will give you that fullness and fiber, along with nutrients that won’t necessarily make it into the juice.”

Some experts were even blunter.

“Come on, seriously? A combination of pecuniary exploitation and stupidity -- I think that's all there is to say on the matter,” said Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and editor of the Childhood Obesity Journal.