But there’s hope: The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, a long-standing organization in Baltimore, is working to raise awareness of the health issues students face today, including bullying and weight stigma. Part of that effort is their commemoration of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which takes the form of a February 26 showing of The Student Body. The film, which centers around one girl’s attempt to ban BMI screening in schools, seeks to fight stigma and raise awareness. Sheppard Pratt will further that mission: After the screening, clinicians from the Center will be available to discuss treatment and diagnosis of eating disorders and their prevalence today.
Dr. Steven Crawford, the co-director of The Center, wants the Baltimore community to realize that eating disorders are more common than we realize.
“So many individuals in our nation struggle with eating disorders, but only approximately one in ten people receive treatment for [them]. The problem is, they tend to be illnesses of secret. Most people know someone with an eating disorder, but do not know they know someone with an eating disorder.”
(He also emphasizes the importance of acting quickly, because early intervention significantly affects the outcome of the treatment.)
The Center decided to present The Student Body as part of its outreach program because it exposes the unintended problems that exist within our school systems. Many health classes use Body Mass Index (BMI) report cards to monitor the student’s “health.” However, these can negatively affect the student’s image of their body, and may be linked to eating disorders. There is not a lot of data that shows exactly what the BMI system represents. Students who are athletes and may have a higher muscle mass will score high on the BMI report, example, thus inaccurately portraying the lifestyle of the student.
Schools hope to promote more activity and weight loss with these screenings, but many are not aware of the consequences. As Dr. Crawford says, “The BMI screening gives people a number, which can set them up to think they failed at something. It may promote dieting, which is the number one risk factor of eating disorders. It can set people up to go in a direction that can be very harmful to them.”
Bailey Webber, the co-director of The Student Body, says “After kids get these letters, they have weight stigma and start developing anxiety and self-loathing. My journey started in high school, when I heard about the government mandating BMI tests and then sending out what kids called ‘fat letters.’ Little did I know that I walked into a national debate and this complicated issue of childhood obesity.”
While studying communications at Wright State University, Bailey also makes time to educate others on what they can do to fight back against negative body imaging and advocate for healthy living. “I hope to empower people with this fun, upbeat film. Despite the heavy content, it is very empowering and inspiring. I hope that people will take away that their voice and their story matters.”
The Student Body will be screened at 2pm on Sunday February 26th at the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt. Screening is free, register at www.eatingdisorder.org.