Preventing Eating Disorders in Schools

Four out of ten Americans have suffered or have known someone with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are complex illnesses that can cause major disturbances to one’s diet, and often co-occur with other mental illnesses. Eating disorders have been diagnosed in children as young as seven to eight years old, although signs are often not diagnosed until the middle to late teenage years.

Schools can play a role in helping to prevent and identify eating disorders. To advance the knowledge of school professionals on this topic, Framingham State University offers a 4-week online professional development course called Preventing Eating Disorders in Schools taught by Vanessa Cavallaro, MS, RD, LDN.

Preventing Eating Disorders in Schools is aimed towards teachers, school nurses, and school nutrition professionals. In this course, participants learn about preventing eating disorders in schools, disordered eating signs and symptoms, and resources that promote healthy body image.

This course provides opportunities for participants to share success stories. Two examples from this past summer are the Compliments Card Activity and the Selfie-Esteem activity. The Compliments Card Activity, adapted from Boston Children’s Hospital’s Break Free from Depression workbook, was presented by Michele Merrick, a health and physical education teacher at Framingham High School for grades 9-12. The Compliments Card Activity consists of children writing compliments about their classmates on index cards. At the end of the activity, students will have a card with multiple entries. If they feel comfortable, students may also share what others wrote about them. For more information on this activity, download the Compliments Card Activity lesson plan.

Compliments Card Activity

Another lesson presented in the course was the Selfie-Esteem activity, presented by Howie Landau, a Brookline High School health teacher, and credited to the health teacher, Dan Shanahan. This lesson uses current technology in a beneficial way. In the Selfie-Esteem activity, kids take selfies and say something positive about themselves. When Landau led the activity, he noted that the kids initially had trouble with it. However, when the teachers took the lead and the kids followed, the lesson turned out to be very successful.

For more resources to learn about and address eating disorders, visit JSI’s Eating Disorders page in the JSI Resource Center. In addition, the John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition and Framingham State University offer a variety of nutrition and wellness focused 4-week online courses for educators and school professionals.

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