How Can Schools Battle Misinformation About Nutrition As a Preventative Measure Against Adolescent Eating Disorders?

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Survey

In the research phase of my project, I conducted an anonymous survey of 30 high school students. Below are some of the most interesting takeaways:

  • 50% say that social media has driven them to feel insecure about their bodies
  • 73.3% say that they have seen unreliable nutrition information being offered on social media
  • 43.3% say that they have restricted their food intake in the hopes of changing their appearance
  • 66% say that they do not think their school’s nutrition education has helped them create a positive body image and relationship with food 

Interviews

In order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of 1) eating disorders and 2) efforts towards nutrition and wellness education in school, I conducted an interviews with a mental health professional at my school. Below are some of the most compelling quotes from the interview:

“I do [think that increasing the level of nutrition/health and wellness education at school] would be beneficial but ONLY if they are taught by trained educators in the topic. Long gone are the days of teaching about the food pyramid and counting calories/keeping food diaries.” 

“We need to talk about food as fuel (putting gas in our tanks) so that we can get through our days with optimal energy as well as enjoying eating and deriving pleasure from it. Discussing food and nutrition in good/bad terms can lead to an over obsession with calories/diet culture/healthy-ism

Social Media

As teenagers, many of us spend hours of our day on social media apps like Instagram and TikTok. Although these apps are fun, they do not censor misinformation and the harmful promotion of harmful fad diets under the guise of health information. 

The internet so often romanticized eating disorders and this can heavily affect developing teenage brains. Those who develop eating disorders in their teenage years may find it extremely difficult to break their habits going into adulthood. 

“A lot of these ‘what I eat in a day’ posts are, like, 900 calories, and they’re making people look at it and say, ‘If I eat exactly what she’s eating, I’ll look like her,’ but they’re actually going to be starving and be really hurting their health, their metabolism and their future… People are like, ‘Here’s my calorie deficit for weight loss.’ They’re posting these things as facts even though they’re not” – Jenna Werner, registered dietitian 

“In her talk, Viveca Lee goes through her battle with anorexia in order to clear the wide misconceptions about eating disorders and help break the stigma around mental illness”

“When I had anorexia, it felt like my mind was possessed by demons that were constantly controlling my thoughts and actions” – Viveca Lee (in her TedTalk)

Research Takeaways

A large part of the process of creating my project was reading peer-reviewed scientific studies that address topics relating to eating disorders in teens and the effectiveness of nutrition education. One of the most interesting articles I read was titled, Prevalence of eating disorders among dietetics students: does nutrition education make a difference?

Dietetics students have better eating habits and fewer eating disorders -abstract of the study linked above

This article, along with others that I studied, clearly concluded that nutrition education has been shown to improve the eating habits of students. 

Call to Action

Nutrition education is lacking at my school and at school across the United States. Misinformation on the internet would be less dangerous to teens if they were properly equipped with the knowledge they need to recognize and fight against media that propagates diet culture, glamorizes eating disorders, and promotes other forms of unhealthy relationships with their bodies and with food. 

– High schools should include a unit on nutrition in every health and science class that educates students on such topics as

  • Eating disorders 
  • Healthy diets
  • Natural bodily changes (specifically during puberty)
  • Recognizing nutrition misinformation online
  • The way photoshop and other editing can affect our self-perceptions relating to body image

-School counselors should provide clear and accessible resources for students who are struggling with body image or eating, and make these resources known to students. 

-High schools that hold assemblies on varying topics should include assemblies/workshops on body image, eating disorders, healthy eating and how social media can wrongly influence our diets

In addition to nutrition education, health classes should shift some of their focus off drugs and alcohol and onto mental health education.

If people understand the warning signs of eating disorders, they will be better equipped to help those around them. Education about eating disorders will help break the fantasy that many teenagers hold that eating disorders and glamorous, trendy or effective ways to alter weight.

What can you do?

Look out for the people around you and use your knowledge to recognize when your friends or family might be suffering from eating disorders. 

To help me continue to expand my knowledge on this topic, please fill out the survey linked below:

PLEASE COMPLETE THIS SURVEY!

National Eating Disorder Helpline

Thank you so much for reading and engaging with my page! I would love to hear your feedback- feel free to leave questions or comments in the comment section below. 

10 Comments

10 comments

  1. Hi Amalie!
    The outcome of your conducted research was a great, very impactful way to start out your website! It really was a great hook to catch my eye! Something that really struck me was the “what I eat in a day” quote. In my junior high, we all had to present to the class what we ate in a day and it was very damaging as people would eat less to make themselves look “more healthy” to the class and not be judged, which I think is exactly what your project is trying to avoid. A question I have for you after reading your page is when should nutrition begin to be taught in schools?

    1. Hi Erika! Thanks so much for your comment. I think that deciding when nutrition should be taught in schools is really tricky because you want to balance the type of exposure your people are getting. I would say around 4th grade is a great time to start engaging students with topics related to intuitive eating and neutralizing food.

  2. Hi Amalie! I think that your project and its aim are incredibly important! Comprehensive nutritional and health education are essential for adolescents, now more ever (considering the prevalence of social media and a widespread unhealthy beauty standard). I know my school, like so many schools across the country, don’t offer this education and in the process harm students. My few questions are about what age groups you’re planning to target with this and how that might change. You talked heavily about high schoolers but should middle and elementary schools receive the same sort of education earlier on in a different way? Overall, wonderful work!

    1. Hi Marley! I really appreciate you taking the time to engage with my project. My project focused on teenagers who are more prone to developing eating disorders which is why I primarily focused on high school education. However, I definitely think that younger age groups would benefit from nutrition education. I would need to do more research to understand how this education would differ from education for older students.

  3. Hi Amalie!

    I LOVED your project! I really like how you looked at eating disorders through the lens of nutrition. I think we don’t often associate those two terms, but they clearly impact one another. It was a great idea to take a survey of high school students to see truly how high these numbers are among a random population. The quote by Jenna Werner is also amazing because “What I Eat in a Day” videos are so much more problematic than we think. Eating disorders should be taught in high schools, but just as important or maybe even more importantly proper nutrition taught by a dietician and what “good eating” really is. I think making sure your diet is nutritious and balanced can be very hard, especially for high school and college-aged students who have more independence but often less responsible than an adult. Is there anything in your research that you have found to be tips or tricks to help with better nutrition for students? Great project!! 🙂

    1. Hi Jing Jing! Thanks so much for engaging with my project. In my research, the main thing I found was that there is no one formula for nutrition. Everyone needs something different, and different things work better for different people. Also, I am not a registered dietitian by any means, so I don’t really want to be giving out nutrition advice.

  4. Hi Amalie! I really enjoyed learning about eating disorders in our abnormal psych class and think you presented this project in an amazing fashion. The information you present is very clear and it is obvious you spent a lot of time putting this webpage together. How do you think that social media platforms (instagram, tik tok, etc) can regulate these inherently harmful videos? I know your project had a focus more so on schools and nutrition education but I believe if these platforms can do their part as well the effect will be seen even more. Again I loved your project and loved the survey aspect as it encourages viewer engagement!

  5. Hi Marley! I really appreciate you taking the time to engage with my project. My project focused on teenagers who are more prone to developing eating disorders which is why I primarily focused on high school education. However, I definitely think that younger age groups would benefit from nutrition education. I would need to do more research to understand how this education would differ from education for older students.

  6. I loved your project Amalie,
    This is a super prevalent issue in society today especially now with social media being the norm. This is a very important project and I wanted to thank you so much for doing this. I agree with Jing Jing Munson about how important it is to be wary of those ‘what I eat in a day’ videos from a lot of people because they’re problematic and never tell the whole story for viewers. Overall this was super powerful and I know everyone else will say the same thing, this was so well done and organized, the interviews and everything you did amazing.
    Tori:)

  7. I also forgot to include my question but how much do you think social media has impacted young teens everywhere, any gender, surrounding body image and stereotypes?

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