A Rough Patch for Nutrition Education in Colorado

The Colorado Board of Education will need to wrap its mind around the unintended consequences of good intentions for nutrition education. This comes from the case of a high school student with body image concerns made worse after a calorie tracking assignment at school. As a result, she wound up with a 10-week stay in the eating disorder treatment unit of Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Nutrition education can be a good thing. But one size never fits all. The girl’s father has asked the Colorado State Board of Education to be more careful about nutrition education. Other parents have chimed in. For the sake of a child’s health it makes sense. Mistakes are costly.

Calorie Balance

Representatives of the school district told the Denver Post that they were only trying to support Colorado standards on calorie balance. However, the old concept that a healthy weight is a simple matter of balancing calories in with calories out often doesn’t work too well in real life.

The trouble is that for people who have issues with health and weight, it’s not that simple. So problems can ensue from requiring an entire class to track their calories. Kelsey Been, a spokesperson for the district said they would be talking with mental health specialists to sort out these issues:

We want to be more aware of what we can do, so our students are learning about nutrition but are not put at risk.

The Colorado Department of Education is taking a similar tack, consulting with experts at Children’s Hospital.

Implications for Nutrition Education

No doubt, some adjustments are coming for the nutrition education strategies for Colorado schools. To the extent that rigid ideas might have crept into these well-intended programs, care is necessary. Ovidio Bermudez is the Senior Medical Director for the Eating Recovery Center in Denver. He explained that people can cause themselves great harm by locking into rigid diet and exercise regimes:

When the path to health becomes very narrow, where you have to chisel yourself into health, it almost always backfires.

For a long time, the assumption has been that we can overcome obesity simply by educating people to make better choices. Education is a good thing. It might help children lead healthier lives. But the wrong kind of nutrition education can also do harm.

Colorado education officials are getting their own education on this subject right now.

Click here for more on this situation in Colorado.

Back to School, photograph © Phil Roeder / flickr

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December 23, 2019