Well, the hyper-zealous food police who take it upon themselves to determine what each of us should eat and not eat seem to be creating a new health problem - a mental health problem for our children.

The New York Times reported last week about an alarming rise among children in eating disorders and anxiety about the foods they eat.

This is largely being driven by aggressive activists who try to label foods as bad for you and good for you. We highly recommend this article as a must-read for parents as it is full of practical advice based on real-life experiences of doctors, psychologists and dietitians who are dealing with these eating disorders every day. And we commend the NY Times for reporting on this problem; we're sure the food police have been beating on their door ever since.

New York Times reporter Abby Ellin wrote: "While scarcely any expert would criticize parents for paying attention to children's diets, many doctors, dietitians and eating disorder specialists worry that some parents are becoming overzealous, even obsessive, in efforts to engender good eating habits in children. With the best of intentions, these parents may be creating an unhealthy aura around food."

We need to cut the parents some break here. After all, they're bombarded with extreme messages in the popular media about "bad" foods that you must avoid at your own peril. They hear it from academics, activist groups and Hollywood doctors who know the best way to draw attention to themselves, and get on TV, is to demonize a food or attack a company. So these self-proclaimed experts stir up extreme scenarios that have minimal basis in science and no foundation in common sense. And this creates anxiety and irrational views toward food.

These blame-the-food messages certainly contrast with the hard science. Most recently, a Harvard study last week that showed balancing calories is what really matters, not what particular foods you eat. Any food can fit into a diet, so long as the calories you consume are balanced with the exercise you get. Calories consumed balanced with calories burned - this is the equation to weight maintenance.

What these studies and news stories suggest is that a little common sense is in order when it comes to food. Of course, we want our children to eat balanced meals and have nutritious diets. That doesn't mean there isn't a place for foods that are fun.

We need to stop telling people what to eat or not eat and instead teach them how to eat. Teach them the proper place for all foods. Again, how to balance calories consumed with calories burned. Maybe then, we'll give our children the tools they need to lead balanced lifestyles as adults with a healthy mindset about eating.

Laura Collins, author of "Eating with Your Anorexic," told the Times: "It's a tragedy that we've developed this moralistic, restrictive and unhappy relationship with food. I think it is making kids nutty, it's sucking the life out of our relationship with food."

And Cynthia Bulik, the director of the eating disorders program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, put the problem this way:

"We're seeing a lot of anxiety in these kids. They go to birthday parties, and if it's not granola cake they feel like they can't eat it. The culture has led both them and their parents to take the public health messages to an extreme."

Maybe Dr. Bulik could walk across campus and talk to her fellow Tar Heel and notorious bad-food extremist Dr. Barry Popkin about the harm his alarmist rants are creating. A dose of reality and perspective are what Popkin and his posse need.

The food police need to chill - they're causing more harm than good.