Collaboration secures important changes to school curriculum to prevent eating disorders

When classroom content triggered an eating disorder relapse for Kylie Burton’s daughter, the EDFA member was galvanised into action.

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

“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 devastating consequences for thousands of families.”

Kylie approached several eating disorder organisations to seek support for her campaign and also collected hundreds of examples from the EDFA community of classwork that had triggered an eating disorder or prompted a relapse.

With the support of EDFA and The Embrace Collective, a letter was prepared for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) to call for significant reform of the Australian Curriculum, including:

1) the addition of ‘safety considerations’, similar to the one for anaphylaxis, for all content relating to food and nutrition, to create awareness and reduce the delivery of materials that may inadvertently cause harm to students with body image concerns.

2) A broad review of all content descriptors in HPE, Mathematics, Science, and Design and Technologies, including language such as “diet” to be replaced with “balanced nutrition”.

3) resource links to be added, so that families, teachers and school leaders could be more aware of, and better supported with, up-to-date, evidence-based information.

In November 2023, the updated Curriculum Connection – Food and Wellbeing was published on the Australian Curriculum Version 9 website, and included the changes proposed by the collaborative group.

The changes included: 

1) A comprehensive review of website text for preferred language. Over 340 references to Body Mass Index (BMI), weight, calories, healthier, class surveys, food and diet have been removed or replaced, with a new focus on “strategies to maintain health and wellbeing”.

2) Under “Considerations” teachers are now advised to avoid the following activities:

  • critiquing and comparing personal food and wellbeing choices and habits with those of other people, including class surveys, calculating kilojoules/calories, assessing body weight and body measurements, calculating BMI and recording food diaries.
  • focusing on constant improvement for all students to be ‘healthier’ and using the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.

3) There are four links to resources that teachers can access that support these changes: 

These updates provide clear guidance and support for teachers, to ensure a safer, more inclusive and balanced approach to teaching about food, nutrition, health and wellbeing.

Kylie, EDFA and The Embrace Collective would like to thank all those who emailed examples of triggering class content. Your collective experiences were expressed in our letter to ACARA, as evidence that this is a nationwide issue, affecting thousands of families.

“Together we have achieved something truly incredible,” Kylie said. “There is still more work to be done, but we believe these changes will begin to have a significant impact on eating disorder prevention in Australia.”