School can be stressful and challenging for many young people, and, in some cases, school-related activities can trigger an eating disorder. Nearly 15 percent of the patients at the inpatient eating disorders treatment program for children and adolescents at Rogers Memorial Hospital trace triggers for their eating disorders to school programming.
Much of the conversation around nutrition in schools and health and wellness classes centers on “good foods vs. bad foods,” teaching kids how to read food labels and count calories, and the “destructive nature” of unhealthy foods. Some nutrition classes also use gross-out tactics (like visceral demonstrations of globs of fat) to scare children into healthy eating.
The problem lies not in the need to educate children about nutrition, but that this education is not simultaneously delivered alongside body-image awareness. It’s possible to teach nutrition in a body-positive way; nutritional education is a large part of all of the eating disorders treatment programs at Rogers. Scaring kids, making strong generalizations about health and nutrition, focusing as body images and stereotypes all pile pressure on kids to approach food and nutrition in unhealthy ways.
The good news is that there are some easy ways to continue the educational conversations about nutrition in ways that reduce the risk of pressuring kids into making unhealthy choices. Rogers recommendations include:
As our nation becomes increasingly concerned with obesity, the desire to improve children’s nutritional habits is understandable. However, as we are attempting to help combat obesity we must simultaneously be aware of the possibility that how we present this information can trigger disordered eating in children and adolescents.
The inpatient eating disorders treatment program for children and adolescents at Rogers Memorial Hospital was developed by Tracey L. Cornella-Carlson MD and Theodore E. Weltzin, MD, FAED along with a treatment team with unprecedented experience treating eating disorders in young people.