Families concerned about school work’s potential to trigger disordered eating and eating disorder relapse


October 6, 2023

Growing numbers of Australian families are concerned about the potential for classroom work to trigger disordered eating and also hinder eating disorder recovery, Eating Disorders Families Australia (EDFA) Executive Director Jane Rowan said today. 

She was responding to a story in Brisbane’s The Courier-Mail regarding dangerous social media trends in schools, leading one teacher to call for an overhaul of the national curriculum to ensure classroom work was not exacerbating the situation. 

Hundreds of Australian parents have raised their concerns with EDFA that school work involving Body Mass Index (BMI) tracking, food diaries, and identification of “good” and “bad” foods was causing disordered eating patterns, while others had faced eating disorder relapses that required hospitalisation as a result of such projects. 

“It is a theme that we hear constantly at EDFA – that changes are urgently required to the national curriculum in order to protect our children from developing an eating disorder or to protect them when they are in eating disorder recovery,” Ms Rowan said. 

Brisbane mum and former high school teacher Kylie Burton realised her daughter’s eating disorder was spiralling out of control again after being asked to undertake a BMI-related maths project. 

“I couldn’t believe it. After two years of strong recovery, my daughter started relapsing,” Kylie said, who posted in EDFA’s private Facebook forum for eating disorder carers about her situation. 

Families from all over Australia started emailing me with similar stories of how classroom content had triggered their loved ones into eating disorder behaviours. I realised it wasn’t just me. It wasn’t just my child. This was a nationwide problem with potentially catastrophic consequences for thousands of families.”

Kylie added she understood the pressures teachers are under and they are asking for more guidance about how to implement the curriculum changes in an appropriate way. 

In response to Kylie’s concerns, EDFA and The Embrace Collective formed an important collaboration to bring the voices of parents together with the experts and evidence to advocate for change. 

“There have been some really positive steps in the right direction in the Australian Curriculum v9.0, and curriculum coordinators have been very cooperative in taking our concerns on board,” The Embrace Collective’s Executive Director Dr Zali Yager said. 

“What we really need is for teachers – across primary and secondary schools – to shift towards a more positive way of teaching about food and health.” 

Dr Yager said while the curriculum outlines the content to be covered, teachers were able to decide how they do it, which sometimes meant a maths teacher would decide to make learning about graphs more fun by plotting everyone’s weight in the class. 

“We need more widespread awareness that talking about weight, and weight control, can actually be quite harmful. Being taught to record a food diary, calculate calories and BMI, and restrict food intake is teaching young people how to have a disordered relationship with food and their body,” Dr Yager said. 

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