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Student calls on Oregon School District to end calorie tracking assignment

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A student who said she mentally suffered from a required calorie-tracking assignment is calling on the Oregon School District to put an end to the middle-school health-class project.

The assignment has Oregon Middle School students track their eating habits using a smartphone app to analyze their nutritional intake and reflect on any dietary changes they might consider as part of an eighth-grade health class, Evelyn Becker wrote in her petition to end the project.

For Becker, now a sophomore at Oregon High School, it was a “dreadful” experience, because she was already suffering from depression and anxiety before doing the assignment.

“Young people do not need more reason to feel that their bodies are inadequate,” Becker, 15, wrote in her petition. “This assignment is a breeding ground for low self-esteem students to develop unhealthy relationships with food.”

Oregon Superintendent Brian Busler said the district takes seriously concerns about curriculum with regard to weight and body image.

“The research is well-documented on health eating disorders, and we don’t want to contribute to that in any way,” he said. “We also know self-esteem, self-identity and body image is such an important thing for young boys and young girls.”

The calorie-tracking activity is part of a “health extravaganza” project that has students explore their nutrition, exercise and sleep habits and how they relate to overall wellness, which has happened on and off the past five to seven years, Busler said.

In response to the petition, which had more than 400 signatures by Friday afternoon, he said a couple of administrators will review the assignment and its place in the health curriculum.

Busler said it is also common for teachers to provide an alternative assignment if a student finds an original project “challenging or difficult or one that they don’t philosophically agree on.”

Becker wrote she believes the assignment put her on a path toward “disordered eating.” She wrote she continued to use it after the project ended and only stopped at the suggestion of a therapist.

“I remember logging my food and feeling guilty about every piece of food I swallowed,” she wrote.

In an interview, Becker said she started to obsess over what she was eating and the number of calories she was consuming.

“I went into the assignment very self-conscious about my own body and then being taught this is how you count, this is how you restrict … it was pretty triggering,” she said.

In Dane County, 4.6% of high school students reported having some type of eating disorder in 2018, according to the Dane County Youth Assessment survey, which asks students in seventh through 12th grade various questions about their health and well-being.

Female high school students reported a higher rate of having an eating disorder — 6.7% of respondents — than the 2.1% of male students who reported , according to the survey.

Becker said she was reminded of the project when a close friend recently brought it up because she has a sister in middle school

“I was just angry in my bedroom at 10 a.m. and wrote a petition,” she said.

Becker, who described herself as a “theater kid,” said she was surprised hearing from other students and adults expressing similar concerns with the assignment after she started the petition.

“We never want a young person to feel uncomfortable with a piece of our curriculum in school,” Busler said. “We’re very proud of the fact she brought this up, she took an advocacy stance.”

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Logan Wroge is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has been with the newspaper since 2015.

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