The Department of Education is advising teachers not to discuss eating disorders and instead focus on positive body image.
Schools in the province aren’t teaching eating disorders because the Department of Education advises them not to.
While no one from the department would do an interview with Kicker, in an email the department confirmed they are discouraging schools from including such curriculum.
“In 2018, the Department of Education recommended to educators that they refrain from teaching about eating disorders in the classroom and focus on creating a culture that fosters health and wellness.”
“The Department of Education supports health-promoting actions in the school environment and throughout the K-12 curriculum to foster positive body image, and to avoid onset of eating disorders.
In 2018, the Department of Education recommended to educators that they refrain from teaching about eating disorders in the classroom and focus on creating a culture that fosters health and wellness.
As part of the K-12 curriculum in public schools, educators now focus on discussions about healthy living for all, food nourishment and positive health behaviours. Biology 2201 was updated in 2020 and includes a section on the impact of disorders and diseases on homeostasis. As a part of the course, students are expected to research and summarize a nervous system-related disorder or disease.
Under the public school curricula, Health 6-8, Home Economics 7-9 and Nutrition courses have not been updated since 2018. An updated Health curricula is scheduled for release in 2025 and will continue to use a research-based approach to explore topics and promote positive healthy behaviours.
In 2019, professional learning for educators took place for Nutrition 2202-3202 to focus on positive body image, and to encourage teachers to focus on a learning environment that promotes healthy body images and healthy eating.”– Full email from the Department of Education
It’s a strategy that Erica Bradbury, 36, of St. John’s disagrees with. She’s been living with anorexia nervosa for the past 22 years of her life.
“Everybody knows what depression is, and what anxiety is, you know,” said Bradbury. “So even putting out more info packets or more education in schools would also really help.”
The urgency of Bradbury’s words are punctuated by the beeping of medical equipment in her hospital room. For more than two decades she has searched for help as she battles anorexia nervosa.
She recognizes educators must be careful while speaking about these behaviours, as to avoid giving unhealthy tips.
Paul Thomey, the executive director of the Eating Disorder Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, hopes to have a process in place as soon as the new school year to inform students about such disorders.
The foundation describes eating disorders as “illnesses that cause a person to adopt harmful eating habits.”
An education program on disordered eating would have to be coordinated in such a way that educators understand how to speak to different audiences, says Thomey. That includes being aware of potential triggers.
“Our role here right now is to try to convince (officials) that it’s something that needs to be done in the schools,” said Thomey. “And we would like to offer the program as part of our association with NEDIC (National Eating Disorder Information Centre).”
The foundation isn’t currently equipped to deliver such a program by themselves, according to the executive director. However, he says, with cooperation from the Department of Education and national organizations, change can happen.
Kicker contacted the Department of Education for a comment on the plan, but did not receive a response in time for publication.
“We believe in the need for education at the student level. It’s just making sure it’s the right program,” Thomey said.
Like many others with her condition, Bradbury’s story started in junior high. She has a long wish list for correcting the way such disorders are treated in the province, and reducing the stigma through education is one of them.
“I think having general knowledge about eating disorders … would be really important to have somebody know what the signs and symptoms are,” said Bradbury.
“So if they themselves, or if one of their friends or loved ones is experiencing it, then they know to reach out for help.”
Thomey says if anyone in the province feels as if they struggle with an eating disorder, or if they’d like to learn more, the foundation is there to advocate for them.
After years of trying different programs, Bradbury was recently advised by an Ontario doctor to travel to the U.S. for treatment.
Still, she hasn’t given up hope.
“If I don’t speak about it, who will? I’ve decided to just be a completely open book,” Bradbury said. “Hopefully, we can make some changes so that other people don’t have to live through the hell that I am living through.”