Eating disorder support Butterfly Foundation warns Aussie teachers over ‘alarming’ classroom activity

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WARNING: Distressing content

Australian body image professionals have slammed an alarming complaint that a primary school used a set of scales to publicly rank young students according to weight.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Backlash to teachers using student’s weight for ‘learning exercises’

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Eating disorder support organisation Butterfly Foundation said it recently received a distressing message from a concerned parent whose friend’s 10-year-old daughter was weighed in front of the class.

The parent claimed the teacher brought a set of scales into the classroom and made the students weigh themselves before writing their names and weights on the board.

The students were then made to rank themselves from lightest to heaviest and the friend’s daughter was the heaviest,

“The problem here has nothing to do with a child’s weight, but rather that children’s weight is being used as a comparative learning tool,” Butterfly Foundation’s Dr Stephanie Damiano wrote in a letter to teachers.

Australian body image professionals have slammed an alarming complaint that a primary school used a set of scales to publicly rank young students according to weight. File image. Credit: 7NEWS

“In the case of this child, over the following weekend, she didn’t eat in an attempt to no longer be the heaviest child in the class.”

The foundation has reported a more than doubling in demand for its services nationwide since the pandemic.

“School staff are more aware of students who have body image issues … more students who are struggling with eating disorders,” Butterfly Foundation head of prevention Danni Rowlands told 7NEWS.

Staff are reporting younger students in Years 4 to 6 are struggling with body image and problematic behaviour.

“We’re increasingly hearing reports of students expressing low self-esteem, not eating at school or who are uncomfortable doing so in front of others, students over-eating and under-eating and expressing a desire to count calories and diet from a young age,” Damiano said.

Body image experts say activities such as publicly weighing and comparing children’s bodies can have lasting impacts including increasing preoccupation with body weights, anxiety, restrictive diets and binge eating.

“There are lots of tools a teacher can use (for teaching activities ) – a child’s body is not one of those,” Rowlands said.

The Butterfly Foundation is calling for educators to register for its free Butterfly Body Bright program.

Parents are encouraged to lead by example at home by setting good eating and exercising habits, speaking positively about body image and avoiding referencing children’s shape and size.

If you or anyone you know has an eating disorder, or if you would like information, referrals or counselling for eating disorders, disordered eating or body image concerns, contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 3673 or butterfly.org.au

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