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Reforming Australian Curriculum for Healthier Body Image and Eating Habits

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Medriva Correspondents
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Reforming Australian Curriculum for Healthier Body Image and Eating Habits

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In an effort to curb the escalating incidence of eating disorders among children and young people, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is undergoing a considerable shift in its approach to teaching children about their bodies and nutrition. The initiative aims to prevent eating disorders by removing references to BMI, weight, calories, and diets, replacing them with terms such as 'balanced nutrition'. The curriculum changes are designed to connect nutrition to physical and mental health and present food as an enjoyable and social activity, fostering a healthier relationship with food and a positive body image.

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Behind the Change

The push for this change was led by Kylie Burton, a member of Eating Disorders Families Australia (EDFA), and a mother whose daughter has been battling anorexia nervosa. Burton's advocacy, backed by the EDFA and other groups, was instrumental in bringing about this transformative shift in the curriculum. The changes come in the wake of an alarming surge in hospital presentations of children and young people with eating disorders, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What's Changing?

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The new curriculum, scheduled to be implemented in 2024 and 2025, will focus on supporting the development of positive food and wellbeing behaviours in students through five key strategies. These encompass promoting body appreciation, positive relationships with food and eating, and balanced nutrition. It will avoid potentially harmful teachings, such as critiquing and comparing personal food and wellbeing choices, calculating BMI, and focusing on constant improvement for all students to be "healthier". The changes have been integrated across the curriculum to encourage a more holistic approach to health education.

Reactions to the Changes

These changes have been warmly welcomed by various stakeholders, including the Australian Education Union, Dietitians Australia, and the Embrace Collective. Clinical psychologist Dr. Vivienne Lewis, a specialist in treating children and young people with body image and eating disorders, also supports the changes. However, there is an emphasis on the need for more involvement from accredited dietitians and resources for educators. Teachers are seen as playing a crucial role in educating children about body respect and having a healthy relationship with their bodies and eating. Therefore, there's a need for support and appropriate professional development for teachers.

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Challenges Ahead

While the overhaul is a significant step forward, it comes with its challenges. The most significant of these is our appearance-obsessed world with a diet culture, which can be counterproductive to the new curriculum's goals. Adults, including parents and educators, need to work hard to be better role models, reinforcing the message of body respect and balanced nutrition. The need for professional development for teachers and resources to effectively implement the changes is also a crucial aspect to consider.

In conclusion, the changes to the Australian curriculum represent a milestone in the fight against eating disorders, promoting a healthier relationship with food and body image among students. While the curriculum changes are a significant stride forward, society as a whole needs to work together to reinforce these positive messages and ensure the wellbeing of the next generation.

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