A middle schooler from Wisconsin launched a petition to call out problematic curriculum that requires students to track their calories.

By Maressa Brown
December 20, 2019

There's no doubt that the prevalence of childhood obesity is an issue. The latest stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that it affects about 13.7 million children and adolescents. Plenty of national programs have taken aim at the problem, such as former First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign. And the best efforts are those that acknowledge that kids are suffering from eating disorders and poor body image, as well.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 81 percent of 10 year olds think they're fat, and another study found that 40-60 percent of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight. And in a large study of 14 and 15 year olds, dieting was the most important predictor of a developing an eating disorder. That said, efforts to encourage them to lead healthier lifestyles can't come at the expense of their mental health and self-esteem.

That's why a student in Oregon, Wisconsin named Evelyn Becker couldn't believe it when her school's health class required students at her middle school to take on a mandatory calorie counting assignment called "Super Tracker Nutritional Goals." The project required eighth graders to use the app My Fitness Pal to track their calories and other nutritional values for one week. Then, they were expected to analyze the amount of each of these factors, write a paper about what they should do to change their diet to meet the limits that the app provides, repeat the tracking and writing progress for one more week, and then they'd be graded.

Seeing the potential harm in this assignment, Becker decided to start a Change.org petition calling for her school to end these calorie tracking assignments. Nearly 400 people—mainly fellow students and parents in the community—have signed the petition. Becker is aiming for 500.

On the Change.org petition page, Becker explains: "I had to do this assignment myself. It was dreadful. I was suffering from depression and anxiety due to some traumatic events that happened the year before. I had a very strong belief that I wasn't good enough and this project made things a lot worse. I remember logging my food and feeling guilty about every piece of food I swallowed. The first day I ate food as I always did, but once day two came around I would only eat half of the calories I was supposed to. I became fixated on the numbers only two days in. That week I believe started my disordered eating. I continued to use that app after the assignments, and I didn't stop until I met with my first therapist, who immediately prompted me to delete it and told me that no student should be allowed to use the app at all, let alone for school work."

Becker added, "Young people do not need more reason to feel that their bodies are inadequate. This assignment is a breeding ground for low self-esteem students to develop unhealthy relationships with food."

A former student of Becker's school named Isabella Lindert commented on the page: "If this ends up being brought to a school board meeting or you need more people to personally testify to the effects this had on OMS students at a young age, I and a few other seniors are willing to help out and tell our stories as well. I truly hope the health course, in general can be reformed, since there was a lot of misinformation and shaming that occurred."

Another supporter named Michelle Dayton wrote, "What an invasive 'assignment.' I agree it should be deleted from the school. It is laziness of the health teacher and terribly personal for a growing person's delicate ego and psyche. Kids may overshare on most medias, but being shamed on an app is hardly productive for teaching about food groups and eating habits. Please return to proper teaching of nutrition. Leave the portion control to trained professionals in the child's medical clinics."

Change.org told Parents.com in a statement that the middle schooler has since received an email from her health teacher, who "is aware of our petition and is curious of the intent and desired outcome." Their conversation is ongoing.

Here's hoping this brave, outspoken eighth grader is not only heard but is able to influence curriculum that is undoubtedly misguided and problematic.

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