Information for teachers and school staff

Key points:

  • Body image is a top concern for young people
  • Adolescence is a time of intense change and upheaval when people often feel out of control
  • Most eating disorders begin during adolescence: know the warning signs
  • It’s important to seek help and support if you are worried about someone

Body image is consistently rated one of the top concerns for young Australians. They are bombarded with mixed messages about appearance, how to dress, what to eat, how to exercise and be popular, the “obesity crisis”, diets, social media selfies, and popular celebrity culture; all at a time when they are trying to find their own place in the world.

Adolescence is a time of intense physical, emotional and mental change. Most teenagers will feel stressed, confused, anxious, and self-conscious at times. Early adolescence is often a time when a person will change schools, friendship groups and perhaps develop an interest in the opposite or same sex. It’s a time of big changes, often accompanied by the feeling of being out of control.

The average age of onset for anorexia, bulimia and disordered eating is during adolescence, although children as young as five can be affected. With adolescence occurring at a younger age,  10-12 year olds can be at risk of developing an eating disorder. Eating disorders can be triggered by an attempt to gain control during a time of life when many people feel pressured and helpless.

Teachers and school staff usually spend a large amount of time with children and young people, so are in an ideal situation to notice when things are amiss.

Things to watch for:

  • Shortened attention span
  • Perfectionism or black and white thinking
  • Withdrawal from social situations or friendship breakdown
  • Depression, anxiety, self-harm
  • Increased irritability
  • Change in school attendance
  • Increase interest or knowledge of food, calories, use of ‘fat talk’, or fad diets
  • Excessive exercise or movement
  • Worried friends
  • Throwing lunch away
  • Change in appearance (weight, hair, skin, nails).

Keep in mind that they may show only a few of these signs.

having the conversation

creating a body positive school