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Physical Development

Self-Esteem and Self-Image

In today's society, people are regularly exposed to radio, television, and print media suggesting the "perfect" look or appearance. Whether a person is old enough or not to understand the falseness surrounding these messages, it can have the effect of making children, especially adolescents, feel unsatisfied with their self-image. From time to time, people tend to look at the mirror to analyze their body for "flaws" and then begin to imagine how they would feel if they were a few kilograms thinner or a few kilograms heavier. High school students, especially, will begin to fantasize a world that revolves around them, thinking about the incredible popularity they could gain with these changes in mind. Since conformity is a strong factor in this period of development, adolescents seek to be liked and approved of by their peers (Auger and Rich, 2007). If children take pride in someone else's accomplishments but their own, and lose sight of all the wonderful things taking place around them, it indicates a phase of low self-esteem. Often, students who suffer from low-esteem will avoid trying new things at school or at home because they feel unsatisfied with the things they have failed to achieve. In turn, they may feel unloved and unwanted, and find themselves unable to tolerate normal levels of frustration. These behavioural patterns are imminent in both males and females, but it is also important to note that they are commonly expressed differently, depending on the person. For instance, a male student may deliberately eat more junk food to gain a few extra pounds in hopes of making the wrestling team, while a female student may resort to eating considerably less to feel thin and accepted - both of which are unhealthy choices. Understanding the effect of a child's weight is an important aspect for teachers to recognize because the words and actions used in the classroom can greatly impact how students feel about their self-image.

 

Obesity is a serious health concern because it leads to a wide range of physical and psychological problems. Childhood obesity is already the leading cause of pediatric hypertension and diabetes (Alexander et al., 1992). Studies also show that half of overweight children become overweight adults and children of obese parents may become obese adults (Carlson et al., 2001). In addition, obesity contributes to high cholesterol, joint disease, menstrual irregularities and other hormonal imbalances. Students who are obese are frequently teased by their peers, targeted by bullies, and are chosen less as playmates during recess. Moreover, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are also complex illnesses that commonly affect adolescents. Unlike obesity, these disorders are characterized by low body weight due to a lack of eating, in fear of gaining weight.  These conditions lead to similar health problems to those associated with obesity, such as heart failure and amenorrhea (Bernstein, 2008).

A cartoon depiction of a person suffering from anorexia

 Figure 1. A cartoon depicting a person suffering from anorexia.

Food guide to healthy eating for people years and over.

Figure 2. Food guide to healthy eating for people years and over. Click to enlarge.   

Although the conditions outlined above are extreme, teachers must know how to approach students of all levels to regularly promote a healthy way of living, even if they do not necessary follow one themselves. Elementary school students are usually intrigued by their teacher. In most cases, they respect or even admire the way their teacher responds to certain situations and follow by their example. As a result, whenever a teacher brings in a sweetened soft drink for lunch, they should avoid drinking it in front of their students during snack period because it can influence their student's choice of beverage. Adding sugared drinks to one's diet results in an excess of carbohydrate storage in the liver, and in turn, is converted to fat if the body remains inactive. Furthermore, a teacher should never speak of a particular diet they are undertaking. If a young student see their teacher drinking diet coke, and asks the teacher why some people prefer diet coke over regular coke, a teacher knowledgeable about obesity should be able to provide a reasonable answer that excludes the notion of weight. When the time is right, a teacher should educate their students on healthy eating, according to the four food groups (Figure 6), and provide reasoning for why each group is essential. In addition, bringing a healthy snack or lunch must be encouraged regularly. Adding posters relating to the importance of outdoor activities and healthy eating should be implemented on the walls of every classroom to ensure that the point gets across to all students. In total, knowing this information can help teachers improve their student's poor eating habits and encourage them to take more responsibility in regards to their health. 


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