My (2012) letter to St- Stephen’s High School

I am sharing with you a letter I emailed to the principal, superintendent and program creator of the school health report cards, which includes BMI.  Recently in the news, the school has follow-up with many success stories of this school’s initiative.  While the BMI reporting erkes me greatly due to its poor measurement what erks me even more is that the school are becoming interim health centre rather than a place of education.  Subsequently, a recent Canadian-based study showed that some healthy-eating/healthy lifestyle initiatives may be triggering unhealthy/extreme food restrictions.  While Elicia Baxter, a grade-10 student interviewed for the story, may have improved some health indicators, I worry about the other students who have stayed silent.

with worry,  @julie_rochefort

January 10th, 2012

Dear Mr. Waycott

I am writing you today to express concerns regarding the use of medireports cards at St.Stephen’s High School. I am a Registered Dietitian who specializes in body image in London, Ontario. I have cc’ed Mr. Don Walker, the program creator along with the superintendent of your school district.

Moreover, I have provided a list of academic literature at the end of this
email which supports and underlies my concerns.

According to St Stephen’s mission statement, the school aims to “to nurture
students individual strengths and provide a positive learning environment
that offers the opportunity to develop the skills, knowledge, and attitudes
necessary to become happy, responsible and productive citizens”. Subjecting
students to graded evaluations of their body is likely to pose severe
negative consequences rather than create a positive learning environment and
attitudes.

While I believe that the report card project is well-intended as both
educators and healthcare professionals care about the heath and well being
of students; robust research has demonstrated that weight-centered
interventions- that is, programs that use weight as an indicator of health,
can lead to severe negative consequences such as:

1.      body dissatisfactions

2.      disordered eating

3.      weight cycling

4.      reduced self-esteem,

5.      eating and weight stigmatization and discrimination

While the public is well aware of the obesity statistics, I have listed
below research findings which offer an additional layer of concerns
regarding the severity of weight preoccupation within the adolescent
population

*         Those who are teased about their weight report more suicidal
thoughts than peers who are not teased.

*         37% girls in grade nine and 40% in grade ten perceived themselves
as too fat. Even among students of normal-weight (based on BMI), 19%
believed that they were too fat, and 12% of students reported attempting to
lose weight.

*         63% of overweight adolescent girls and 34% of overweight
adolescent boys participated in unhealthy and extreme weight-loss behaviours
such as

o   Using laxatives

o   Vomiting

o   Taking diet pills

o   Skipping meals

*         Obese youth are liked less, chosen less as friends, and rejected
more often by peers than “average weight” youth. Some overweight youth
attribute this rejection to their weight, and believe weight loss would
increase their friends.

Programs that focus on weight have yet to show long-term success3-6.
Addressing overweight and obesity is about promoting physical activity and
healthy eating as well as their underlying socio-cultural and environmental
determinants. Grading student’s weight has been shown to perpetuate weight
bias and discrimination among students which contradicts the schools
anti-harassments policy that “everybody should enjoy our school equally, and
feel safe, secure and accepted…”

A recent report written by the Chief Public Health Officer states that schools are an important component in addressing bullying. Consequently, implementing a program that measures and grades students weights risks to further amplify and justify weight-based bullying within the school environment thereby creating an environment that supports
inequality, potential harm [i.e. bullying] and peer/teacher rejection.

The grade report project at St.Stephen’s school has many potential negative
consequences, therefore, alternative efforts to promote health at St.
Stephen’s should be considered and the study be discontinued.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me.

Best regards,

Julie E. Rochefort, MHSc, RD

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First, do no harm. Raising the red flag on school obesity prevention programming

Once upon a time…

School’s typically sold foods associated with weight gain: pop, chips, chocolate bars, fried food, etc… In 2011 the government of Ontario decided to save the children from the BAD foods by creating the School Food and Beverage Policy which provided guidelines for foods sold in school cafeterias. Subsequently, more and more  ‘healthy eating’ teaching were surfacing  in every part of the curriculum from counting calories in math class to label reading in gym class.

Two years later, health practitioners/researchers of a Canadian Study found an association between ‘well-intended’ healthy weight/ healthy eating school programs and the development of an eating disorders.

“A 14-year-old, grade-A student with perfectionist tendencies decided he was going to be “the best” at following the healthy living program at school. He signed up for track and field and soccer and began exercising compulsively. He ate only chicken, fruit and vegetables in ever-shrinking portions and began reading food labels.”

The main author who also happen to be Psychiatrist at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto states that “the programs present this idea that weight loss is good, that only thin is healthy”  and something small such as a ‘healthy eating’ teaching from a dietitian could trigger

In one case, a 13-year-old girl’s “progressive food restriction” began after a visiting dietitian talked to her class at length about what foods students should and should not be eating.

While not all dietitians speak about good/bad foods, I can’t help but feel that red flag rise as I reflect on the many food-based nutrition education presentations I have facilitated to students.

Unfortunately this fairy tale has no happy ending. Children and society as a whole are being convinced that being or becoming fat is something to be ashamed of.

We need to re-write this story and create an ending that results in children being free of food prescriptions and health-ism.

The End?

With hope,

@julie_rochefort