How "healthy" is Health Class?

It used to be "sex ed" that worried parents, but among parents of kids who have suffered with disordered eating, it is "Health" class that scares us.

Many children start dieting, restricting food groups, and moralizing about food and fat after misguided "Nutrition" classes in our age of obesity hysteria. They show "Super Size Me" and assign "Fast Food Nation" to teens already so self-conscious about their appearances they they'd sell their souls and their siblings to achieve an appearance they think their peers will find pleasing.

My son just brought home a sheet from Cub Scouts asking him to track everything he eats and each item's calorie count, something we consider a disordered eating behavior around here. (We won't be doing it. Calls will be made.)

I do not hold to the idea that these influences cause eating disorders - I think the vulnerability is pre-existing and set in motion or triggered by dieting, overexercise, or illness. But these wrong-headed lessons can trigger those triggers, and are particularly counterproductive for children in recovery, and create a hostile environment for them when other kids are taught to parrot this stuff.

My son says "all my teachers talk about calories all the time and getting fat."

Parents of kids with eating disorders often have their children pulled out of health classes, body fat testing, BMI checks, and other "triggering" experiences. I think this isn't enough. We ALL need to pull our kids from these anti-scientific lessons for the sake of all children.

There is no evidence that the kids who take these messages to heart are in need of them in the first place. There is no evidence that these "classes" change weights or behaviors in the long run - except in precipitating unhealthy dieting behaviors. "Do no harm" should apply to education, too.

(postscript: you may want to check out blogger Sandy Szwarc's post on this topic: HERE.)


  1. ugh. I had some bad experiences counting calories for bio and with body fat tests in PE. We were required to set goals, so every girl in my class made weightloss her health goal, despite us all being at healthy weights, and our teacher did not question this at all. I met and surpassed my weightloss goal.

    anyway, I wrote a letter to the principal this last year to address the problems in teaching, though all he said was that he'd pass it on to the teachers.

  2. It's been a long time since I read "Fast Food Nation" so I don't remember all the details but I actually thought it was a great book. It doesn't encourage dieting. It focuses on corruption in meat corporations and how badly they employees who work in the meat farms and factories. It wasn't triggering at all for me.

    Asking a cub scout to track his calories is insane. No arguing there.

  3. "ugh. I had some bad experiences counting calories for bio and with body fat tests in PE. We were required to set goals, so every girl in my class made weightloss her health goal, despite us all being at healthy weights, and our teacher did not question this at all."

    WHAT? That is just tragic. Your teacher is an idiot. That only confirms my opinion that EDs are not purely biological in origin.

  4. Perhaps what it confirms is that an ED can remain dormant in many people if it isn't implied that they ought to be worried about their weight and therefore start counting calories and dieting.They seem to be setting the ball in motion. They imply that children are becoming lazy but they take our children at 5yrs. old and ask them to sit most of the day with only short recess breaks to stretch and move.(it's no wonder many of us were in day dream land) Learning about nutrients and nourishing ones body is a whole other world than measuring and judging us.It crosses a line when they mess with growing children who are at a stage in life where they are learning how they fit in. I recall the sudden need for each one of my kids to be "very clean" right after the the health classes in the middle school. It's as if they felt dirty somehow. While there's nothing wrong with clean hands...I like clean hands and sometimes dirty ones...the way they go about the lessons here seems to promote obsessions. And fast food was out of the question after a certain teacher decided to share all the gross stories of things found in the food at these places.
    So...I think what we are getting to..if they haven't brainwashed everyone that we need to rethink how and why they are implementing subjects/courses that contradict liking oneself as we are and accepting our differences.
    They seem to have forgotten that our best defense against disease is a healthy MIND. This is the stepping stone to learning, inventing, and creative work. My first priority (as queen...LOL) would be to stop the messages that tell us we are "fat" "lazy" or "broken" if we don't get in shape. Our schools need to shape up and be mindful of whom it is they are influencing and use that influence honestly and with great care. It really is our future we are minding. I'd hate to find myself in a situation with one these young ones, being schooled now, telling me "we don't make butter or ice cream anymore" when I am an old woman. YIKES..there will be consequences.
    blah blah blah... sorry and schools..I'm still working on this.

  5. Laura-

    I think your son has more insight and perception than some of the adults-- but I believe most kids are in this realm, thankfully so!

    I have to say this as well, especially with all the additional Miley Cyrus-circus-media-hype and just what seems to be an onslaught of marketing/branding and pseudo-educational/consulting "experts" that are looking for some keen ways to make some extra $$ (and like anything-- the "cream always rises", etc.); but I think our kids just sometimes want some of these adults to "shut up already"--they are not complete morons and so naive. Many of them are far more savvy than those who are supposed to be edcuating and/or mentoring them too I'm afraid-- sorry to be so blunt.

    Mary, you strike a very good point about this double-standard that is set up, and it's always been there-- remember what Elvis did to Rock 'n Roll?, but the levels of magnitude and just a constant bombardment of such conflicting messages can and is absolutely annoying and does "set the ball in motion", as well as keep this level of attention drawn to such overkill.

    How schools are appointed guardians of our children's weight, BMI and telling them what to eat (then serving the slop that ensues in most school lunches-- and charging for it!) is just beyond moi.

    My daughter's have not attended schools that adhere to these policies, or participated in extra-curriculars that did the same so I'll admit I'm baffled by this. And I too, would be questioning and having direct conversations re this if it happened-- but what happens when any of you have done this? Does it change, or do they brush you aside and pander yet continue doing the same? I'm also surprised not to hear more of an uproar if this is this the case more now, and I don't know the data/numbers, etc. and why certain state demographics are incorporating this policy based on the "obesity" scare tactic or whatever the leverage is.

    And again, Mary highlights what I've always wondered too, having come from the "Physical Fitness" edcuational environments-- gosh, remember THAT? then you felt funny if you couldn't do the millionth pull-up or 400th sit-up, but I don't remember feeling bad about myself, or triggered, or suddenly that I had to stop eating, overly-exercise; and we did get weighed as I remember now.... hmmm. And suddenly with cuts in school budgets the PE programs and just kids being able to have time outside after lunch, etc. along with other "extras" in curriculum now being bygones-- you wonder what the hell some schools are doing. It can't all be mental and academic-- there has to be the wealth and variety of all subjects and curricula, including some physical components, however that develops-- gardening can even be included in that, just look at what Alice Waters has done in Cali public schools with their "Edible School Yards".

    Oh.. I'm on a tangent--

    Definitely worth the inquiry though, and my gosh-- this type of programming is now in Boy Scouts?!!

    Weren't they always selling popcorn, home-baked goods for fund-raisers; and with the GS those incredible cookies? I've read somewhere that even the venerated GS cookies are being analyzed too for all the "fat" and laden "badness", calories, etc. they have contributed-- tsk!

    Yes... none of these issues "cause" ED's, but I'm right there with you Laura-- they certainly don't help, and are definite triggers for someone who is vunerable. And for any of us with eating disordered children, we KNOW none of this helps their recovery process.


  6. Mary and Tracey,

    You two should seriously have a contest for who can write the longest comment. :)

    On a more serious note:

    I see all of this weighing and measuring as quite parallel to the "education standards" that are running rampant these days. Our culture feels the need to "assess" things, to place people in neat little categories like "fat or thin", "smart or not", "good or bad," etc.

    So instead of wondering how we measure up, maybe we should start asking: who the hell is doing the measuring anyway? And should they be doing this?

  7. I'm back. Very good point Carrie.
    I know I didn't sign any consent forms to be a guinea pig or to allow my children to be a part of a study group. The pediatricians and family physicians have all this information and more. We need to "exercise" our right to say "no" to some of the requests schools make.
    Laura, we ain't blaming. We also aren't throwing stones. Many very good teachers are only doing what the gov't tells them to do. Without parents using their voices nothing will change. Unfortunately things have changes drastically in the years since I was a student.
    The boy scouts was the best organization ever and I have some older BS books for the great ideas. It would be a shame if they got on the bandwagon of harassing growing kids.
    I thought if I posted less often I could say more when a post hit a nerve.

  8. I went to private school, so we didnt get sex ed or much health ed to be honest!

    So it amazes me to hear that calorie counting is being taught so openly. Dangerous.


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