Diet advice in schools is harmful. Oh, d’ya think?

A nutritionist and body image researcher with an interest in preventing eating disorders and ‘treating childhood obesity’, has completed research showing that much of the advice given to school kids on diet, weight and health is detrimental. Full article here:

Jenny O’Dea of the University of Sydney has found approaches used in many of the nation’s schools are inappropriate and potentially harmful.

Associate Professor O’Dea interviewed 8950 students in 57 schools for a study of body image and obesity issues in 2006 and published the results and recommendations in her recent book Everybody’s Different.

“Our approach for dealing with these problems in children should always be ‘First, do no harm,”‘ she told a conference of teachers at the university.

Well, that’s a good start.

The article then goes on to list the some examples of the shocking ignorance displayed by some teachers, for example:

In one high school a teacher started a diet club for overweight girls and encouraged them to seek sponsorship for losing weight. The money they earned was sent to starving children in Ethiopia.

This could come straight from satire. Oh wait, it has.

In another all-girls school in northern Sydney, a physical education teacher forced girls to be weighed in front of their class. He told a girl from his class that her weight was “not good”, despite being well within the healthy weight range for girls of her height and development level. The girl went on to develop bulimia, Dr O’Dea said.

PE teachers are evil. Really they are. I know from my own experience. But still… why would anyone think its a good idea for teenaged girls to be publicly weighed in? Or comment on a girl’s weight, regardless of whether it was in a ‘healthy weight range’ or not?

In a third case study, a food technology teacher at an all-boys school repeatedly pointed out the chubby students as examples of the effects of eating “nasty food”. Some of the boys targeted stopped eating regular meals, while another started bingeing.

Glad to know that the vigilant obesity police are targeting boys too. Well done, guys. Let’s get equal opportunity across the eating disorder spectrum.

Dr O’Dea warned against teachers trying to make health diagnoses. “It’s not a teacher’s job to make clinical diagnoses, design diets or exercise regimes. The best thing they can do is work to make the school a healthy environment.”

Dr O’Dea said teachers who adopted a positive approach to exercise and healthy eating had observed improved self-esteem among students and increased participation in physical education classes.

This seems like sound advice, but I’d be interested to read Ms O’Dea’s books to find out exactly how body positive she is. Certainly some of the articles she is quoted in (which she links to on her home page) seem body positive. Can anyone who has read her books confirm?


12 Responses to “Diet advice in schools is harmful. Oh, d’ya think?”

  1. 1 peggynature Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 9:39 am

    This is interesting. I just today read an article by O’Dea (and Yager)about prevention programs for body image/eating disorder on university campuses. I haven’t read any of her other work, but it appears that she is, at least, working from an eating-disorders perspective, which oftentimes turns out to be consistent with a HAES/size-positive perspective.

  2. 2 KarenElhyam Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 9:39 am

    *Loses lunch*

    …ugh. Well, I guess they would just consider that a small victory in the neverending war against teh FATZ, huh?

    Ugh, how could people be so ignorant AND cruel? It boggles the mind. As if teenagers don’t have enough on their minds as it is, let’s add ridicule about their weight and health by TEACHERS to the pile.

  3. 3 peggynature Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 9:42 am

    I found some of her full-text articles available for free, so if you want to read them for yourself, here they are:


  4. 4 peggynature Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 9:43 am

    Yo dude, check your spam filter — I sent you some links :)

  5. 5 La di Da Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 9:51 am

    As far as I can tell, while Dr O’Dea doesn’t seem quite up to what we’d call fat acceptance, she appears to be a proponent of Health at Every Size and promoting positive body image in people of all sizes, and she is quite critical of the focus on weight itself as a measure of health while still believing it can and does cause health problems. Again, just from what I can tell from her papers and media appearances, her interest in ‘childhood obesity prevention’ doesn’t centre on getting kids to lose weight, but in having a HAES approach in place in the first instance so that kids don’t start dieting and weight-cycling leading to weight gain above where they’d be if their bodies were left to their own devices, and also so that the weight loss effort doesn’t develop into pathological behaviours.

    She’s also stated that the ‘childhood obesity epidemic’ is exaggerated, and that higher-weight kids tend to be focused in certain ethnic communities (hello genetics). Also that weight in adults is mostly genetic, and that health authorities shouldn’t be expecting people to lose large amounts of weight, is aware that fat people suffer discrimination in health care and elsewhere, etc.

    So, seems to be relatively size-acceptance friendly, and a rare voice of sanity in the newspapers’ obesity-scare stories. I’m really hoping she’s selected for the health forum in the Australia 2020 thing, because I can see that going right down the “No fatties by 2020” path.

  6. 6 Erica Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I was publicly weighed in gym class in 7th grade. I’m now almost 30 and I can still remember it more clearly than nearly anything else from that year. I’d just hit puberty and suddenly developed curves where before I’d been very willowy. I’d used to be tall for my age, despite my short genes, but at 5 feet had begun slowing down in growing taller. All of us girls were told that none of us should weigh more than 100 pounds. I remember I was either 107 or 109, and my friend S was the other weight. Everyone who was over 100 pounds was told we needed to exercise more, etc. Our weights were announced one by one and loud enough for the rest of the class to hear. From that day on, I was officially “fat” even though throughout middle & high school I never went above a size 8. There are other reasons I developed a terrible body image, disordered eating habits, deep depression & self esteem issues I’m still having trouble working out, etc., but that horrific experience sure did not help.

  7. 7 Fatadelic Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 6:24 pm

    Thanks everyone. Sounds like she has a tad more size positivity than most nutritionists. (and La di da, I agree with you about Kevin07’s 2020 forum).

    But as for the teachers: clueless. It astounds me how people believe it is appropriate to treat fat people ‘for our own good’.

  8. 8 Di Wednesday, 12 March 2008 at 1:52 am

    Ugh. There are so many bad teachers in the world, who feel this inappropriate sense that they’re right about *everything* because they’re teachers. And you’re right, PE teachers are the worst – although I suspect my high school saw slightly less eating disorder genius episodes because our gym teacher was quite obese herself. No one could take her seriously, and it started a mini-revolution against BMI measurements.

  9. 9 Bri Tuesday, 18 March 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Dr O’Dea has offered to be my doctorate supervisor for my PhD dissertation which will study the experience of being a fat woman in a thin-centric society…that said, I haven’t met her personally and I am still nervous about having anyone who isn’t totally FA as my supervisor, but she seems to be the best person I can find.

  10. 10 Krista Friday, 21 March 2008 at 12:03 am

    I have to give a shout out to all the *good* PE teachers out there. I became an athlete in high school when I never believed I could before (because of bad PE teachers before), because of the kindness and acceptance of a wonderful PE teacher. The very first day of class, she said she would not ask us to do anything we couldn’t do, but that she would ask us to work hard. She was 100% fair, and I learned that I *love* exercise and competition and moving my body. Thank G-d for her!

  11. 11 Fatadelic Friday, 21 March 2008 at 12:14 am

    Krista, I accept that there are good PE teachers much as I accept the probability of alien life in an infinite universe with an infinite number of worlds – but I’ve never actually met one (a good PE teacher or an alien, for that matter). ;)

    Having said that, I’m glad you had a positive experience. That should be what all PE teachers aim for – to inspire a love for physical activity, not to force it. But I dare say that PE teacher training has improved since I was in school an increasingly obscene number of years ago.

  12. 12 dearjanesample Tuesday, 15 April 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Wow this brought back some memories. I too had a public weigh in grade 7-8? Not only did we get weighed, our teacher also measured the fat index of our bodies … he used one of those scary looking metal hooks. Now I wasn’t fat, but I am curvy and had JUST hit puberty at that point and went extra-curvy. It was not fun to be one of the few girls who wasn’t 110 pounds and having a fat index of 30%. And we had co-ed gym too … so all the boys knew how much body fat we had. it was awful, none of the girls were happy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




March 2008
« Feb   Apr »


Click to view my Personality Profile page

RSS FA Links Feed

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Notes from the Fatosphere

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS Fat Liberation

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.


All content on this site is Copyright
© 2002 - 2010
by Fatadelic.
All rights reserved.

Site Meter

%d bloggers like this: