Review of 2021 Wellness Curriculum Draft

Office of the Premier
307 Legislature Building
10800 – 97 Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta  

T5K 2B6

Dear Premier Jason Kenney and Minister Adriana LeGrange,

I am writing to express my very serious concerns about the proposed Wellness Curriculum, along with how other areas in the proposed curriculum may impact youth and teacher wellness.

I begin with declaring my education and experience that gives me a solid professional and educated perspective to review this curriculum.  I have a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a focus on youth health and wellness in schools, particularly eating disorder and obesity prevention.  I was a former elementary teacher with a combined B.F.A. and B.Ed. degree, so am familiar with the developmental and educational needs of youth.  I helped to design the Comprehensive School Health course for pre-service teachers at the University of Calgary.  I have taught courses on Child Development, Ethics, and train teachers on trauma-informed approaches to teaching, Comprehensive School Health, eating disorder prevention in schools, and social justice.  I recently facilitated a provincial workshop on weight-related issues in health care.  I have written articles and book chapters about the importance of eating disorder prevention in schools.  I was an invited professional in the original community focus groups to review and develop the 2018 Wellness Curriculum and was invited to review the entire curriculum from an inclusive and cross-curricular perspective of health and wellness.  

I initially reached out to my MLA, Jason Copping, in October, 2019 to express my concerns about upcoming changes to the 2018 curriculum draft.  He informed me he would put my name forward as an expert consultant on the curriculum review.  There was no response. When I reached out to you as again as an expert to review the new curriculum on August 19, 2020 and again on November 17, 2020, along with letters of recommendation from organizations I have consulted with, my expertise was completely disregarded.  I was informed, “As you are not a teacher with a provincial school authority, employed by a provincial post-secondary institution, or a representative of an organization, please watch for other opportunities to share your expertise over the coming months.”  At this point it is irrelevant that my expertise was previously disregarded.  That is not the purpose of this review.  I simply state this to outline how I am passionate about the importance of how health and wellness is incorporated into the curriculum.

It is critical that you open this review process to the public.  

I need to be clear that I have done this review on my own personal time and not on behalf of any specific organization.  

As such, the following review of the Wellness Curriculum is based on my professional opinion and evidence-based, best practice perspective as a Ph.D. psychologist with a specialization in youth health and wellness in schools.  In particular, I focused on the aspects of how the proposed curriculum meets the evidence-based best practice standards for health promotion, eating disorder prevention, emotional regulation, and socialization.

I did not review the Physical Education skills section, as that is not my area of expertise, nor did I completely review the sexual health or growth and development components.  However, I did review the lifestyle sections in the PE curriculum that focus on the development of healthy behaviours and attitudes that will impact children throughout their lives.  I briefly reviewed other parts of the proposed curriculum for their potential impact on youth wellness.  

Although some of the overarching proposed concepts are important for the wellness curriculum, and are developmentally appropriate, I am highlighting specific critical areas the require significant expert consultation and revision.

In my professional opinion, it is very clear that the proposed wellness curriculum is unacceptable as is.  The proposed wellness curriculum focuses on a narrow perspective of “essential knowledge” and “practical skills,” and is NOT grounded in evidence-based best practices that promote youth health and well-being.  It is evident that the appointed curriculum review committee: 

  1. did not consist of any experts with a background holistic child and youth health and wellness, health promotion, mental health, or prevention.
  2. did not base the wellness curriculum on “proven research,” as stated on the website.
  3. disregarded the holistic nature of the previous 2018 proposed Wellness curriculum and the very tenets the 7 Dimensions of Wellness and Comprehensive School Health.  
  4. did not consult with our nation’s youth wellness experts, First Nation, Metis, and Inuit Elders and Knowledge keepers, or Francophone experts regarding evidence-based best practice recommendations for youth health and well-being.  
  5. did not consider the current Alberta Education overarching guideline for promoting youth wellness in education, which states the following:

The vision of wellness education in Alberta is for students to be educated, informed and contributing members of society and to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be well in every sense of the word—emotionally, intellectually, physically, socially and spiritually.

Wellness education incorporates the needs and priorities of Alberta students living and learning in the 21st century. The wellness education program nurtures the whole child, creates transdisciplinary learning experiences and enables transitions through wellness-related courses.

Evidence indicates that the best way to impact student health behaviours is through a comprehensive school health (CSH) approach. CSH is an internationally recognized approach for supporting student learning while addressing school health in a planned, integrated and holistic manner.  (retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/wellness-education/?searchMode=3)

In short, the curriculum you propose does not honour children’s development, children’s emotions, or their life experiences.  

The curriculum as you proposed emphasizes the following:

  • Weight as a measurement of growth.  This objective encourages children to weigh themselves beginning in kindergarten, which sets them up to believe the numbers on a scale are more important than their embodied experience.  Further, it is not relevant to the Grade Six curriculum to know how much weight a pregnant woman should gain during pregnancy (this is an issue between her and her doctor).  The wellness curriculum appears to be weight biased with its emphasis on weight as a measurement of growth.  This has implications for body-based comparisons and poor body image, the onset of eating disorder behaviours as children attempt to halt their developmentally appropriate weight gain. Weight as a measurement of growth also has gendered and racist underpinnings.  Weight is an extremely sensitive topic that must be addressed in a non-stigmatizing manner.  The last thing we want is the very curriculum that all our children will be taking is to set them up for developing an eating disorder, the deadliest of mental health illnesses.  Weight as a measurement for growth needs to be neutralized with a Health at Every Size approach.  Eating disorder specialists who research weight bias and school-based prevention will be able to advise best practices for teaching about this aspect of growth and development.  
  • Identifying foods as “healthy” and “unhealthy.” This sets children up for confusion and obsessing about “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods in a context where parents are responsible for providing food for their children and nutrition begins in the home.  This has implications for the early onset of disordered eating and eating disorders.  Dieticians who specialize in school-based nutrition and eating disorder specialists will be able to advise best practices for teaching nutrition across the grades. 
  • Reading and analyzing food labels.  This sets children up to believe that the external numbers associated with food are more important than their own internal signals of hunger and satiety.  This has implications for the early onset of eating disorders.
  • Setting fitness goals beginning in Grade Two.  This is an inappropriately young age to be concerned about “fitness goals”, which sets children up to believe that physical activity needs to be measured and improved rather than enjoyed.  This has implications for the early onset of body image issues, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders.
  • Observing physical changes in the body during puberty.  Along with age-appropriate factual teaching about growth and development, there needs to be ongoing support and discussion about children’s actual life experiences and supporting each other through these changes. I am particularly concerned about the Grade Four statement that children should identify the visible signs of puberty (at this age, some girls will have breast development, and other children will be going through developmentally appropriate weight gain).  This sets children up for feeling awkward and isolated during their physical development that is outside of their control.  This has implications for poor body image and low self-esteem, body and weight-related teasing and bullying, and the potential onset of eating disorder behaviours as children navigate their genetic development in a weight biased and thin ideal society.
  • The wellness curriculum does not address factors contributing to healthy body image or the need to develop respect and appreciation for body size diversity and avoid body-related bullying based on appearance, size, or ability.  There is NOT even MENTION of healthy body image.  This has implications for weight bias, poor body image, eating disorder onset, low self-esteem, as well as body and weight-related teasing and bullying.
  • The wellness curriculum only speaks to emotional identification and regulation in Kindergarten and Grade One. Further, one objective emphasizes that children need to go be by themselves or go to a quiet place if they feel emotions.  This has implications for poor emotional regulation and self-esteem, as being near empathic individuals who express care and concern is important to help co-regulate children’s emotions, especially when they are young.  Further, emotional development becomes more complex as children grow and mature, so every grade requires exposure to developmentally appropriate emotional identification and regulation strategies.
  • The wellness curriculum asks students in Kindergarten to identify their “virtues” and personal characteristics.  The wording of this objective is not developmentally appropriate.  Please consult with youth mental health aspects to revise the wording so it is more appropriate and does not imply purity culture as virtuous.
  • The wellness curriculum has an over-simplified version of consent. This is victim blaming, does not address the importance of teaching children to recognize and report predatory behaviour, or the importance of not coercing others if rejected. You seem to have forgotten that individuals in positions of power will not give children an opportunity to give consent or refuse, that children naturally go into a fight-flight-freeze response and may not be able to express themselves when afraid.  Further, it is not children’s responsibility to clearly state a refusal.  What is missing is the requirement of individuals to create a safe space where children’s boundaries and requests are respected.  Again, sexual health and child mental health experts will be able to revise the wording and developmental appropriateness for teaching about consent, boundaries, and identifying predatory behaviour.
  • The wellness curriculum is not trauma informed.  There is NO discussion of adverse life experiences that contribute to trauma, including the tragedy of residential schools, which included all school-aged children.  There is NO discussion of how the fight/flight/freeze response impacts children’s well-being that school counsellors and child psychologists teach children as young as age 4.  
  • The wellness curriculum has ZERO discussion of gender identity or LGBTQ+ across all grades.
  • The wellness curriculum has ZERO discussion of brain development or brain health across the grades.
  • The wellness curriculum has ZERO discussion of how stress impacts the body.  I believe this is a critical topic that children of all ages can focus on.  The curriculum does talk about emotional regulation, motivation, and perseverance; however, children of all ages are capable of learning about and beginning to identify how stress impacts their physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being.  This is a crossover with healthcare in from a health promotion and prevention perspective.
  • The wellness curriculum has ZERO discussion of mental well-being across all grades.
  • The wellness curriculum has ZERO discussion of how children may manage and cope with developmentally typical experiences of anxiety (e.g., separation anxiety, test anxiety, social anxiety, etc.) across all grades.
  • The wellness curriculum does NOT address the importance of respecting the varied health needs for children with special needs, developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, or giftedness.  
  • The wellness curriculum has ZERO discussion of mindfulness.  This is an important approach to emotional, mental, and spiritual health being widely studied by our educators and promoted by mental health professionals.  Mindfulness also has an impact on physical health, and in turn has a crossover with healthcare.
  • The wellness curriculum only makes ONE mention of spirituality (as a side note in Grade 6).  Spiritual health is one of the dimensions of wellness that should be across ALL grades.  Again, youth mental health professionals, experts in the 7 Dimensions of Wellness, First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and Francophone experts will be able to advise inclusive ways to discuss and experience spiritual health in schools.  I assure you that spiritual health will NOT be addressed with the proposed inclusion of religion (see my discussion later in the letter).
  • The wellness curriculum does NOT embrace the 7 Dimensions of Wellness outlined by Alberta Education and Comprehensive School Health.
  • The wellness curriculum does not mention family systems and family dynamics, the very foundation where children receive their first experiences of health and wellness. 
  • The wellness curriculum is very individualistic rather than community building.  
  • The wellness curriculum has minimal First Nation, Metis, and Inuit perspectives and does not include any Francophone perspectives.  Further, the FNMI perspectives that are included are taught as separate mini topics and are not integrated into the curriculum across all grades in an inclusive and holistic manner.
  • The wellness curriculum teaches health and well-being as a “subject” to be studied and memorized rather than inclusive whole-child life experience.  The wellness curriculum appears to be piecemealed together based on a narrow perspective of “essential knowledge” rather than being series of developmentally appropriate cross-curricular, inclusive concepts that can be integrated across many other subject areas, thus placing youth health and well-being at the CORE of our education system.    
  • The wellness curriculum as it stands is over-simplistic and fact-based. This approach is not conducive to teaching and exploring the complexities of health and well-being.  Health is not a “skill” to be developed. By focusing solely on a narrow perspective of “essential knowledge” and “practical skills,” this wellness curriculum teaches students that externalized numbers, goal setting, and visible external changes are more important than their internal experience of health and well-being.  We need to place health and well-being as a foundation of a life-long embodied experience.
  • This curriculum does not respect the fact that children live EMBODIED and EXPERIENTIAL lives.  Children live their lives in a variety of family and community contexts that require a village to help them be well and develop life-long health behaviours and habits.  Our families, schools, and communities are the CENTRE of children’s lives and need to be a foundation where children learn life-long habits.
  • The timeline for the proposed curriculum is not respectful of teacher wellness. The proposed timeline to implement changes places a tremendous amount of stress on teachers to learn new concepts and develop new class plans in a noticeably short period of time, along with teaching concepts and values that they intrinsically know are not in children’s best interests.  Further, there is no time for the best practice training and development of resources that will assist teachers in delivering a new curriculum effectively.  

This list is not exhaustive. Professionals from other wellness backgrounds may also identify other wellness-related issues in this curriculum.  For example, First Nation, Metis, and Inuit Elders and Knowledge Keepers, sexual health experts, dieticians, psychologists, addictions specialists, PE experts, and child relationship experts may observe other inconsistencies and shortcomings and be able to provide best practice recommendations for youth wellness.

As for subjects outside of the Wellness curriculum contributing to youth wellness, it is genuinely concerning to have Christian values and bible stories being taught foremost, and “other” religions being mentioned as secondary.  Religion is vastly different than spirituality and does not necessarily contribute to spiritual wellness.  The particular focus in this curriculum on religion in public education (i.e., promoting Christianity) has emotional, mental health, and relational implications for youth wellness.  It even has nutritional implications, as religions have different food beliefs, practices, and customs.  As not every child is raised in a family with a religious background, including religion in the curriculum as it has the potential to set children up to feel badly about themselves, think “us” versus “them,” develop a moral superiority about their faith background, or alternatively, develop a defensiveness and confusion around their faith if it is not included in the curriculum.  This is NOT an inclusive, holistic perspective.  The inclusion of religion in a public curriculum is genuinely concerning and, in my opinion, should be removed.  The only place for the inclusion of religious stories, in my professional opinion, is to work with faith leaders to identify how cultural traditions and celebrations from a multitude of faith backgrounds can be respectfully and carefully shared with children to promote diversity appreciation and respect.  Further, teachers are not religion specialists, and should not be expected to teach faith values that they are not familiar with or may not have the knowledge or skills to effectively teach.  This sets our teachers up for failure and high stress, along with teaching a topic they do not believe in and know has potential harm.   Our teachers will require a lot of training, support, and best practice resources to share faith stories from a multitude of cultural and religious backgrounds.

I understand from reviews of the Social Studies curriculum that it is primarily based on the memorization of facts from a noticeably young age and a high inclusion of American and European history.  Albertan children will not see themselves, their families, or their communities in the Americanization of the Social Studies curriculum.  I know other individuals are passionately addressing the issues with the Social Studies curriculum.  From my professional and wellness-based perspective, Social Studies is an example where a cross-curricular, inclusive approach would be effective.  As an overarching concept, Social Studies is the study of society and relationships.  Instead of memorizing dates about wars and destruction, a wellness-based foundation for social studies would celebrate families; cultural similarities, differences, & uniqueness; appreciate diverse approaches to living & families & cultures; food preferences; use of resources & belief systems.  With a wellness-based foundation for Social Studies, it would place the dates of significant world events in the context of how humans live, work, share/defend resources, and relate with each other across time. An inclusive perspective embraces the teachings of FNMI AND all cultural heritages AND the impact of colonialism, includes use of resources, trade, and access. It would speak to interrelatedness and inclusion rather than division and “othering.” This is a particularly important concept to consider as you work with our nation’s experts to revise the entire Social Studies curriculum. 

I understand that the Math curriculum is not developmentally appropriate with a focus on advanced number concepts and comparisons beginning in Kindergarten.  If a curriculum is not based on developmentally appropriate learning strategies and child brain development, it sets children up for anxiety, low self-esteem, boredom, lack of attention, and lack of interest and motivation.  

I understand there are significant issues with the Kindergarten curriculum.  Kindergarten is not mandated, so to include mandatory concepts that they are expected to have mastered before they enter Grade One sets children up for failure if they are not developmentally ready, or even more so, do not attend Kindergarten.

Again, I am not an expert in any of those areas, but the impact of these on wellness is important to note.  The lack of cross-curricular and developmental appropriateness in the proposed curriculum is important to note across all grades and subjects.

The appointed curriculum review committee does not seem to understand the 21st Century Learner and educational goals of Alberta Education is to establish consistency in messaging across grades and subjects.  

The appointed curriculum review committee seems to have forgotten that children come to school in a body and from diverse family and community backgrounds that need to be honoured and respected. Everything that children experience in school impacts their overall health and well-being. Our schools are the very centre of where children will develop life-long habits that impact their well-being across all dimensions.  

Our children will not see themselves in this curriculum.

In short, the Wellness Curriculum, and other parts of the curriculum, is mentally unwell. The nutritional and some physical education aspects of this curriculum have an eating disorder, the deadliest of all mental illnesses. As it stands, it is my professional and educated opinion that this curriculum has the potential to set children up for eating disorders, anxiety, poor emotional regulation, low self-esteem, frustration, boredom, lack of motivation to attend school, and a lack of gender and cultural diversity acceptance and celebration.  It teaches children that their bodies are objects to manipulated.  Even further, there is no regard for children with developmental issues, physical disabilities, and giftedness that require specialized support.  

There is a much better way to design this curriculum.

In contrast to the wellness curriculum that you are proposing that is over-simplified, fact-based, and not developmentally appropriate, and not versed in evidence-based best practices or the 7 Dimensions of Wellness or Comprehensive School Health, the 2018 proposed curriculum was balanced, holistic, and respectful of children’s developmental needs.  It was developed by our nation’s experts, First Nation, Metis, and Inuit Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and Francophone experts.  The 2018 Curriculum Draft simply needs to be piloted in schools to obtain first-hand teacher, student, and parent perspectives for further revision.  There is no reason school divisions cannot choose which curriculum draft to pilot and provide feedback on so that we can develop the most progressive and educationally sound curriculum possible.  The curriculum that is adopted will far outlast any government that is in current power, and therefore the well-being of our children needs to be placed above any current political agenda.

It is my professional and educated opinion that the 2018 Wellness Curriculum is far superior to the one currently being proposed.  The 2018 draft curriculum document is a clear, concise, developmentally appropriate, inclusive, holistic document that was collaboratively developed by provincial and national experts, is evidence-based, and well versed in Comprehensive School Health and the 7 Dimensions of Wellness, inclusive of First Nation, Metis, and Inuit perspectives, and inclusive of Francophone perspectives.  

Even further, the following competencies can be easily integrated into the Wellness curriculum (and other curriculum areas) and across all subjects within each grade: 

  • Critical Thinking 
  • Problem Solving 
  • Managing Information 
  • Creativity and Innovation 
  • Communication 
  • Collaboration 
  • Cultural and Global Citizenship 
  • Personal Growth and Well-being.  

It is my professional and educated opinion that the 2018 draft curriculum has the potential to meet the Alberta Education clearly defined wellness goal of students being educated, informed, and contributing members of society and to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to be well in every sense of the word—emotionally, intellectually, physically, socially, and spiritually.  

Additionally, to support teachers in embracing a Comprehensive School Health approach based on evidence-based best practices, there is best practice teacher training available for teachers. The joint collaboration of the University of Calgary and Everactiv Schools, who have created a Comprehensive School Health course for pre-service teachers.  The foundations of this course could be taught across Alberta so that ALL our teachers are versed in evidence based best practices to incorporate foundations of wellness into all their classes.  Even more so, our nations experts have ALREADY developed healthy body image curriculums that can easily be implemented, and other experts can inform best practices in curriculum review and resource development.  Provincial and national organizations dedicated to youth health and wellness can be consulted to further inform best practices.  Please see Appendix A for a preliminary list of experts, organizations, and best practice resources that can be utilized to further inform curriculum revisions.  This is by no means an exhaustive list.  

Since the appointed curriculum review committee clearly did not review the 2018 proposed curriculum that relied on our nation’s experts, Elders, and Knowledge Keepers to develop it in a collaborative and holistic manner based on evidence-based best practices for youth wellness, here is an overview directly from the 2018 Draft Curriculum.

Wellness Education: 2018 Draft Curriculum

(the following section is copied directly from the draft curriculum and not plagiarized)

“What Is Wellness Education? Wellness education has a strength-based focus that promotes the development of the whole individual and aims to nurture students in their pursuit of a healthy, joyful, and active life. It supports the belief that mind, body, and spirit are inseparable, intertwined, and interconnected. Wellness education is comprised of the disciplines of health education and physical education. From Kindergarten to Grade 12, students become literate about their wellness in ways that are lived and practised in a healthy school community. To facilitate interdisciplinary learning experiences, wellness education focuses holistically on the seven dimensions of wellness: 

• Emotional • Environmental • Intellectual • Occupational • Physical • Social • Spiritual

As a foundational component of a healthy school community, health education promotes the vitality of individuals and communities while strengthening students’ understandings of relationships. As they grow and develop, students’ access, comprehend, evaluate, and communicate information as a means of promoting, maintaining, and improving their health in a variety of settings throughout their lifetime. Students who are literate about their health make healthy living choices and connections because they have developed understandings in areas such as human sexuality, financial well-being, and mental health. 

Health education facilitates the strengthening of students’ social and emotional growth by deepening their understandings of self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and social awareness. Physical education, as another foundational component of a healthy school community, improves the quality of life for self, families, and communities. As students become physically literate, they develop movement competencies, personal and social skills, and an appreciation for active living while participating in a wide range of physical activities. During physical education, students have meaningful learning opportunities as they interact respectfully within various indoor, outdoor, and alternative environments in each of the following contexts: • games • rhythmic, gymnastic, and expressive activities • individual activities • challenge and adventure activities • cultural activities 

Why Is Wellness Education Important? Wellness education is an essential part of educating the whole individual and it supports students on their journey to achieving optimal well-being. Purposeful engagement in physical activity, combined with health-related experiences, enriches their lives. Students develop the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge, and understanding to value and take responsibility for engaging in physical activities for life. Through wellness education, students’ identities are enhanced as they contribute to the well-being and understandings of self and one another through their lived experiences. Wellness education provides students, as contributing members of a diverse society, with opportunities to make informed decisions. These decisions affect themselves, others, and their communities. Wellness education supports students in understanding and valuing the importance of improving their quality of life. We all benefit when Albertans are healthy, joyful, and active citizens. 

Inclusive Education Inclusion is a way of thinking and acting that demonstrates universal acceptance and promotes a sense of belonging for all students. It is an attitude and an approach that embraces diversity and learner differences and promotes equal opportunities for all learners. Wellness education seeks to empower all learners, respecting the diversity of each student’s unique strengths and individual goals. Wellness builds student capacity using a strengths-based approach that recognizes and develops talents so that students can positively engage with their peers and community. All students can develop self-awareness by learning skills for self-regulation, self-efficacy, and advocating for self and one another in collaborative environments. Wellness education promotes ways of knowing and being to help cultivate an appreciation of others and healthy communities. Wellness learning experiences meaningfully engage and support all students. With a healthy mind, body, and spirit, students are empowered to experience success at school, with their families, and in their communities. 

First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Experiences and Perspectives Wellness education reflects the importance of maintaining a holistic balance between the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of self and community. Embracing a holistic model of wellness respects and honours traditional ways of knowing and being for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit. Shared oral stories and teachings from Elders and Knowledge Keepers help support the building of healthy and supported individuals who have a sense of identity and belonging and value their place in communities. Wellness education provides opportunities for students to develop and experience connections to the land and to the universe by honouring ancestors and their contributions and encourages students to value resiliency to persevere and advance reconciliation. 

Francophone Cultures and Perspectives By incorporating Francophone perspectives in wellness education students recognize the role that resiliency and culture play in healthy communities. When addressing Francophone perspectives, all students benefit from a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other’s identity and culture. Furthermore, students gain knowledge and appreciation of the diverse contributions that Francophones continue to make to society in Alberta and to a country with two official-language groups.”  (Wellness Education Draft, 2018)

In conclusion for this preliminary review, I sincerely hope that you will take all of these critiques and recommendations seriously and invite our nation’s youth wellness experts and Alberta parents and teachers to adopt a holistic, inclusive Comprehensive School Health approach based on evidence-based best practices to ensure our children indeed have a Wellness Curriculum that promotes the 7 Dimensions of Wellness across all grades and subject areas and will enhance their health and wellness for years to come.  

Sincerely,

Dr. Angela Grace
Ph. D. Registered Psychologist

APPENDIX A: RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Nutrition: Best Practice Recommendations 

  • Help students develop a healthy body image and increased self-confidence (Levine et al., 1999; Russell & Ryder, 2001a, 2001b; Russell-Mayhew, 2007b); 
  • Focus on a weight-neutral approach (Russell-Mayhew et al., 2012);
  • Encourage tolerance about differences in appearances (Levine, Piran, & Stoddard, 1999; Russell & Ryder, 2001a, 2001b; Russell-Mayhew, 2007b) and encourage all children to avoid stigmatizing some and misclassifying others (Thomas, 2006);
  • Include teacher training that focuses on developing appropriate attitudes towards weight (Thomas, 2006; Yager & O’Dea, 2005);
  • Challenge current standards of beauty (i.e., thin and muscular) to combat the internalization of the current thin ideal (Piran et al., 2000; Roehrig et al.,2006); 
  • Critique media for harmful messages (Haliwell, 2015)
  • Improve communication and interpersonal skills (Levine et al., 1999; Russell & Ryder, 2001a, 2001b; Russell-Mayhew, 2007b);
  • Teach critical thinking skills (Levine et al., 1999; Piran, 2010; Russell & Ryder, 2001a, 2001b; Russell-Mayhew, 2007b);
  • Address gender as a contextual factor (Piran, 2010);
  • Examine the school context to identify helpful and harmful practices (Levine & McVey, 2012; Piran & Teall, 2012).
  • Provide a combined focus on nutrition and physical activity (Katz et al., 2008);
  • Consider socio-economic factors (Thomas, 2006);
  • Reinforce changes with policies that contribute to healthy living (Economos et al., 2007).
  • Implement trauma informed practices in the classroom (Saewyc, 2011).
  • Include parent training (McVey, Tweed, & Blackmore, 2007; Russell-Mayhew et al., 2007,2008; Trost, 2006) and enlist parental involvement (Katz et al., 2008);
  • Encourage community involvement (Economos et al., 2007; Katz et al., 2008; Piran, 1999b; 2001; 2010).

Harmful Practices to be Avoided:

  • Focusing on weight control and the harmful effects of obesity (O’Dea 2010).  Excessive focus on weight has the potential to lead to unhealthy social comparison (Maclean et al., 2010), weight-based stigmatization (Puhl & Latner, 2007; 2009), and weight-based victimization (Puhl, Luedicke, & Heuer, 2011).  
  • Weight-related screening & reporting (Dieticians of Canada, 2004)
  • Any practices that have the potential to cause harm by increasing feelings of blame, shame, or guilt (Dieticians of Canada, 2004) 
  • Any practices that negatively focus on physical appearance rather than healthy lifestyle habits (Dieticians of Canada, 2004).  
  • Negative health messages in curriculum content, literature, & children’s media (Herzobo, Tantleff-Dunn, Gokee-Larose, & Thompson, 2004; O’Dea, 2010; Puhl & Heuer, 2012) 

(for a complete list of references, please contact Dr. Angela Grace dr.angela.grace@gmail.com)

Recommended Teacher Resources (not an exhaustive list)

Websites for Resources & Information

  • National Eating Disorder Information Centre www.nedic.ca
  • National Initiative for Eating Disorders www.nied.ca
  • PREVNet (Canada’s authority on bullying prevention)
  • Rudd Centre (Food Policy, Weight Bias, Teacher & Parent resources):  http://www.uconnruddcenter.org/weight-bias-stigma-schools-and-educators
  • Healthy Body Image: www.thebodypositive.org
  • Health at Every Size: www.haescommunity.org

School-based Programs

  • Body Image Health   www.bodyimagehealth.org
    Provides a model for healthy body image and curriculum materials for grades 4-6. Lesson concepts and activities can however, be adapted for any age group.
  • Healthy Buddies   www.healthybuddies.ca/index.htm
    A program designed for Elementary School children encouraging positive attitudes towards physical activity, nutrition, and mental health.
  • Mindcheck www.mindcheck.ca
    Offers youth and young adults the ability to assess their mental health status.

Recommended Resources for Schools 

Beyond Images (online teaching resources) http://nedic.ca/beyond-images

Chadwick, D. (2009). You’d Be So Pretty If . . .: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies-Even When We Don’t Love Our Own. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press.

Ekern, Jacquelyn, MS, LPC. (2013). The Disturbing Rise of Anorexia Among Very Young Children. Retrieved from www.eatingdisorderhope.com

Friedman, S. S. (2000). When girls feel fat: Helping girls through adolescence. Toronto: HarperCollins.

Friedman, S. S. (2002). Body thieves – Help girls reclaim their natural bodies and become physically active. Vancouver, BC (Canada): Salal Books. [see www.salal.com]

Joint Consortium for School Health. (2010). Schools as a Setting for Promoting Positive Mental Health: Better Practices and Perspectives. Retrieved from www.jcsh-ccess.ca

Kater, K. (2012). Healthy bodies: Teaching kids what they need to know. www.bodyimagehealth.org

Kater, K. (2004). Real kids come in all sizes: 10 essential lessons to build your child’s body esteem. New York: Broadway Books.

Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre. (2008). Strategies for Educators: Eating Disorders and Your Classroom.

Leeman, Nathan and Shepherd, Karen. (2011, February 25). Creating a Trauma Informed Classroom. PowerPoint presentation presented at Pace School, Pittsburgh, PA.

Manley, Ronald S., Ph.D., (2013). Sport & Body Image: Understanding Excessive Exercise and Eating Disorders in Athletes. Retrieved from www.drronmanley.com

Mills, A., & Osborne, B. (2003). Shapesville. www.gurzebooks.com

Ministry of Education, Special Programs Branch. (2000). Teaching Students with Mental Health 

Disorders: Resources for Teachers. Volume 1- Eating Disorders. Retrieved from www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/edi/ed1.pdf

Mogensun, D., Yiu, L. (2016). Understanding Eating Disorders in BC Schools: A Guide of Trauma Informed Practices for School Professionals. 

National Eating Disorders Association. (2008). The National Eating Disorders Association 

(NEDA) Educator Toolkit. Retrieved from www.nationaleatingdisordes.org

Satter, E. (2004). Your child’s weight: Helping without harming. Madison, WI:Kelcy Press.

Smolak, L. (2011). Body image development in childhood. In T. Cash & L. Smolak (eds.). Body image: A Handbook of Science, Practice and Prevention (2nd. ed.). New York: Guilford.

The Student Body (Canadian online program)  http://thestudentbody.aboutkidshealth.ca/    

Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. Guidelines for Teachers and Counsellors: Helping a Student with Suspected Disordered Eating. Revised 2012.

Wicholas, Bertrand., MD. (2010, October 21). Understanding Eating Disorders: What School Counsellors & Teachers Need to Know to Help. PowerPoint presentation presented at the Counselor’s Conference.

Zeckhausen, D., & Boyd, B. (2008). Full mouse, empty mouse: A tale of food and feelings. Washington, DC: Magination Press.

Recommended Researchers & Prevention Specialists (not an exhaustive list)

Dr. Angela Alberga, Concordia University
Dr. Karlee Fellner, University of Calgary
Dr. Angela Grace, Registered Psychologist 
Dr. Gail McVey, University of Toronto
Dr. Mark Norris, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Regional Eating Disorder Program
Dr. Niva Piran, University of Toronto
Dr. Shelly Russell-Mayhew, University of Calgary