The US Health education curriculum is flawed. Here’s why.

Image via VeryWellMind

Image via VeryWellMind

Amaiya Groshong

The way health is taught and presented throughout middle school and high school in the US education system is damaging to children, and overall defective. While the curriculum does attempt to promote health in a realistic way, it does not take into account the risk of pressurized eating disorders or the outdated use of BMI in classroom settings. In addition, the content being taught is typically fear-mongering for young minds. As a high school student, I have been taught that BMI is an accurate measure of your body’s physical and fitness health since I was in middle school. It took until my junior year to learn that BMI is not only inaccurate but was based on a study population that consisted mainly of men. In addition, students have been taught to categorize Healthy v. Unhealthy foods, creating a negative relationship with food when they may not have access to “healthy” foods. 

BMI was created by Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian astronomer, and mathematician, AKA not a physician. Quetelet created this measurement as a quick and easy way to determine the general population’s weight, a shortcut for a calculation. Although this measurement calculates a population’s weight more accurately, according to PubMed, This form of measurement is not accurate in the calculation of one person’s health. BMI calculation also ignores the waist size, which is a key factor in determining obesity and the level at which it is. It allows no allowance for bone, muscle, or fat, meaning someone with great health could be determined overweight or obese based on their high BMI. Another issue is the ignorance of ethnicity and race. Many different ethnic groups may be affected differently by different food categories than other groups, creating a disconnect between the nutrition and BMI bridge. 

When taught about eating disorders, the curriculum often focuses on anorexia and associates thinner bodies with this illness, The reality is that eating disorders can come with someone on any part of the weight spectrum, along with 12 different eating disorders. The nutritional education we receive about these eating disorders is limited, but the risk of gaining an ED while being taught this nutritional education curriculum is boundless. The curriculum taught to students throughout middle school/high school uses avoidance and restriction as a “nutritional” lesson and focuses on disease prevention by categorizing foods as healthy or unhealthy, which can lead to a fear of certain foods and encourage disordered eating. Dieting is also often taught, and according to PubMed, can lead to lower self-esteem, poor body image, and overall, a vulnerability to eating disorders.

Although the health curriculum is flawed, it is exceptionally more aware and advanced than health education was about 20 years ago, and is now a required course for students. So, How can we improve the curriculum? One option, According to Alix Timko, is promoting intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is essentially just listening to the body’s signals of hunger while staying on track with the typical 3 meals a day. Another solution is dropping the use of BMI as a health measurement for Middle/High Schoolers. In retrospect, the health education in schools is a very important part of students’ education, but with a couple of improvements in the curriculum, it could be a lot more effective and safe for growing students.