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Point of View: SMMUSD Must Focus on Eating Disorders:

Santa Monica is one of the most socially conscious cities in the United States, especially when it comes to food. Every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, one can find a farmers’ market right in the middle of the city, filled with food grown in California and sold by the farmers who grew it themselves. A multitude of charitable organizations funnel their energy towards attempting to feed the city’s hungry. And yet, even among these excellent programs, there is little being done to educate the city’s youth about disordered eating. The school district should expand their educational services regarding eating disorders in order to increase awareness and prevent eating disorders from affecting Santa Monica’s citizens.

Currently, at both the middle school and high school levels, it is difficult to find any evidence of support for those suffering with eating disorders. As young adults turn more and more to the Internet for information and answers to difficult questions, it would be helpful to create a trustworthy, descriptive website for students. After a cursory check of Santa Monica High School’s website, I was hard-pressed to find any information even resembling a link that could direct someone who suffers, or who knows someone suffering, from an eating disorder to a helpful adult or otherwise useful resource. The nurse’s webpage merely mentions such vague descriptions of possible support as “the health office has information on various health issues” and hints at information for students who might have a “complex health issue.” Shouldn’t students be able to get more useful information directly from a theoretically dependable source?

Even inside local schools, there is not much visibility for eating disorder education and support. Although all students must take semester-long courses in overall health, much of class time is spent on sex education (which I support, don’t get me wrong) and very little is spent on other topics, such as disordered eating. When I was in ninth grade at Samohi, we spent one week out of the entire semester covering nutrition. And, within those five school days, we mostly discussed which foods are healthy – not the development, identification, and treatment of eating disorders.

According to Professor Kelly Brownell of Yale University, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, prevention is the key to improving a population’s health. Taking his advice to heart, increasing the amount of time spent on eating disorder awareness in the classroom would decrease the amount of students suffering from eating disorders. When it comes down to the statistics, prevention is vital in ensuring the number of people fighting eating disorders decreases. The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that there are 10 million women and one million men suffering from eating disorders in America, and these statistics are most likely low due to the stigmatization associated with eating disorders. Furthermore, the number of young adults with eating disorders is on the rise.

Historically, prevention has had smashing success in improving public health: cholera, the spread of influenza, and even sexually transmitted diseases have all decreased dramatically due to focusing on how the population as a whole can avoid risky situations. This notion can easily be applied to eating disorders, and as a socially conscious community, Santa Monica should take a stand by increasing eating disorder awareness in its public schools. Hopefully, our relentless pursuit of social awareness will bring us not only healthier food and food for all, but a healthy relationship with the food we eat.

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