“This powerful program teaches children the skills they need to manage food and weight successfully for the rest of their lives. The smiles and sense of confidence radiating from children who have had these lessons speak for  themselves." —Karin Kratina, PhD, RD, Nutrition Therapist, Author, Eating Disorder Recovery Center, U of FL

Healthy Bodies; Teaching Kids What They Need to Know 

Beyond prevention of eating disorders and obesity...
A comprehensive curriculum to address body image, eating, fitness, and weight concerns in today’s challenging environment.

Contains eleven scripted lessons for grades 4 - 6; adaptable for any age or venue.

Healthy Bodies book

Healthy Bodies is a weight-stigma-reduction program, promoting health enhancing behaviors instead of size.

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Published by Body Image Health in association with the National Eating Disorder Association.

At a time when they should feel secure in their body's growth, too many children today learn to feel anxious about weight and shape and to make choices that contribute to the very problems they hope to avoid. The results diminish the self esteem and integrity of growing bodies and egos, as well as consuming attention and energy that should be available for other important developmental tasks. The compelling wish to be slim provides the seeds for a host of body image, eating, fitness, and weight problems that are extremely difficult to reverse once established.

Rather than helping, studies have confirmed that weight stigma and body dissatisfaction lead to poorer eating and fitness choices, less physical activity, weight gain and diminished health.  Yet public health campaigns to prevent higher weights continue to ignore the bigger picture: “Size prevention” initiatives add to weight stigma. Weight stigma encourages disdain of fatness directed toward oneself and others with any visible fatness, as well as fear of fatness among average or low weight children. The worse children and teens feel about fatness and/or fear gaining weight, the less likely they are to make self-caring, health enhancing choices. Researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Obesity and Health and elsewhere have issued a call for weight stigma reduction programs to promote positive eating and fitness habits without regard to size. Such programs are needed now, before more harm is done. The Healthy Bodies curriculum was developed in response to this call.  Eleven engaging lessons teach children to:

  • maintain a caring, mindful connection to their bodies from the inside-out
  • develop an identity based on who they are rather than how they look
  • reject weight stigma and respect genetic diversity of body size and shape
  • understand  how appearance changes with puberty
  • defend against unhealthy cultural pressures regarding looks, weight, food choices, and dieting
  • chose positive role models that support their deeper values
  • actively embrace health and vitality through positive eating and physical activity
  • support each other in having a healthy body image, eating well, and staying fit 
  • support each other in having a healthy body image, eating well, and staying fit 

Earlier editions of this curriculum were recommended by the U.S. Department of Health. Office of Women's Health in its BodyWise information packet for educators, and lessons are being taught in schools across the country.

Those who have enjoyed teaching earlier editions of this curriculum will find these newly revised lessons to be familiar but improved by recommendations of educators and updated empirical data. As before, lessons are carefully planned, engaging, age appropriate, cross-disciplinary, and based on widely recognized, evidence-based prevention principles.

“This curriculum should be required in every school and is a must for anyone in the field of disordered eating, weight control and body image.”
Carolyn Costin, Executive Director, Monte Nido Treatment Center, Author of Your Dieting Daughter

“Most of all, I value how these lessons make students realize they’re all in this together when it comes to puberty. I think if more schools introduced Healthy Bodies at a young enough grade level, they would notice a sharp decrease in the body teasing that is so harmful. This curriculum encourages students to embrace diversity and look out for each other. It ties in so nicely with our anti-bullying unit, and it is and excellent starting point for any upper elementary or middle school health program."
Amy Smith, Shanghai American School, Middle School Health Teacher/ Department Head

"Kathy Kater has written an inspired curriculum for teaching children the truth about the diversity of body shapes and sizes and about healthy habits.  In a step wise, consistent fashion, she includes material on healthy food choices in a most positive way, and as a Registered Dietitian I am delighted to read it.  I will be recommending this curriculum to my grandchildren’s school in Miami, FL." 
—Ellen Glosky, PhD, RD, LDN

Student responses to Healthy Bodies:

  • “I learned to feel good about who I am and not worry about what I look like.”
  • “We learned about reaching puberty and loving ourselves for who we are.”
  • “No one is the same, and there’s no such thing as a perfect weight.”
  • “I learned that I should not believe every advertisement.  They are very often misleeding [sic].
  • “You can’t really change how you look.  Just eat a lot of good food and don’t watch so much TV and your family geens [sic] will tell your body how to turn out right for you.”
  • “I learned to never judge someone by their looks alone.”
  • “I learned it is best to work at finding who I am and then being myself rather than trying to copy everyone else.”

Teacher responses to Healthy Bodies:

  • “Everyday the kids asked if they got to have health. That has never happened with a health unit.”
  • “It was amazing to see how the kids opened up in the discussions. I think they became more interested in learning about healthy choices for health’s sake, versus just to get a slimmer look.”
  • “I questioned the need for this until I overheard two of my (fourth grade) girls talking about feeling fat.” 
  • I'm really impressed with the way this curriculum reaches the boys in my classes. When they take the packets home to go over with their parents, it truly does help alleviate some of their tension.
  • Lessons provoke wonderful, engaging discussions that the children love.  This is a fantastic curriculum, and I'm grateful to have it." 
  • “My own life would have been very different if I had (these lessons) in the fourth grade.”

Rather than a fear based approach, warning children about what to avoid, Healthy Bodies provides students with the information and behaviors needed to maintain integrity in the face of unhealthy pressures. Each lesson is based on one or more of the Healthy Body Building Blocks that together create a foundation for positive body esteem, eating, fitness and weight. 

“The Healthy Body Image curriculum should be in the hands of every elementary school teacher in the United States. The revised edition has the potential to transform classrooms, and is the resource for any school that wants students to develop positive self- and body esteem, resist unhealthy messages regarding weight, shape, appearance, fitness, and food, and be equipped with the building blocks to a healthy lifestyle.”   –Margo Maine, leading expert and author of several books on body image and eating disorders

Why Healthy Bodies should be taught to every child growing up today 

Negative body image and the drive to be thin 

It is statistically normal today for girls to be dissatisfied with their bodies and say they “feel fat,” a disparaging self-judgment that may or may not have anything to do with being fat. While people have always been interested in appearance, undue emphasis on physical beauty for women and the need to be thin in order to achieve it is unprecedented. Body scrutiny for boys in our culture is gradually following the path previously prescribed for females.  Far from benign, negative body image notably leads to diminished overall well being and health.

More recently, messages promoted by public health campaigns to “prevent obesity” have taken fear of fatness to a whole new level. That public health initiatives have arisen out of a deep and important concern for improved eating and fitness does not change the fact that the stated purpose—“obesity prevention”—encourages the unhelpful belief that there is a “right” and a “wrong” size to be. This belief directly or indirectly affects everyone today, including ever-younger children. Even kindergarten teachers report their students now engage in “fat talk.” In addition to those who will progress in their body image concerns to diagnosable health problems, anxiety about weight, obsessive inner dialogues about how to control it, and the restricted, defiant, demoralized, or complacent eating that predictably follows interferes with important emotional and health needs for many more. Students today need help to resist pressures promoting weight stigma, body dissatisfaction, and disconnection from their best, lifelong ally for health: their own bodies. The Healthy Bodies curriculum is a guide for this purpose.

Concerns about higher rates of obesity

In five decades of unprecedented worry about weight and efforts to lose it, the incidence of those categorized as overweight and obese has more than doubled. While many factors have contributed to higher weights, this increase is not due to a shortage of desire or attempts to drop pounds. In fact, new evidence is quite clear that a weight-based focus has added to the problem.  

With headlines warning of a correlation between obesity and health problems, worried physicians and parents often do not know what to help chubby children avoid risks. But a careful history of obese adults reveals that many trace a pattern of preoccupation with food and compulsive or binge eating to weight-loss diets that were urged on them as children by well-meaning adults. Prescribing a weight reduction plan directly teaches a child that she or he cannot trust and should not listen to the innate body cues that are perfectly calibrated to regulate their hunger and weight, and that they must rely on external rules in order to be both healthy and acceptable in the eyes of others. Such a plan is a set-up for failure, swinging the pendulum to a dysfunctional alternative that is not benign. Following the maxim, “do no harm,” is imperative. When we do not know what do, we must at least heed what not to do. 

Fortunately there is an alternative that is perhaps so obvious, it continues to be missed by most.  The answer requires asking the right question: fat or thin, what should we do for our health in any case?  The response is clear. Instead of fear and loathing of fatness, health initiatives should promote the value of health in its own right, as well as the ways and means of mindful eating and fitness for everyone—irrelevant of size.  If instead of size a sustainable, healthy lifestyle were the goal, then some people would remain fat, some would be thin, but virtually everyone would be healthier. Isn’t this the point? Shifting the focus to how we live while remaining neutral about what we weigh is an effective solution that empowers all people of every size and shape to be the best they can be, opening the door to a fit and well-fed populous of diverse sized children and adults. Campaigns to support the development of healthy, realistic body images, wholesome, stable eating, and lifetime fitness habits regardless of shape, size, or weight could eliminate much of our population’s “weight problem.” The Healthy Bodies curriculum is aligned with this purpose.

A challenging food environment and default sedentary lifestyles

Alongside the thin/buff-ideal and the various means to achieve it, the introduction and mass marketing of low-nutrient/calorie-dense, taste-stimulating foods have competed for and acquired a much bigger share of the American food market. Without a doubt, the explosion of fast-food, entertainment-food, and ready-made or easy-to-prepare processed-food has dramatically altered both the eating habits and quality of food eaten by the average American.  

By comparison, most whole, unprocessed groceries, fresh produce and meats are available at higher cost at stores or markets in limited locations that are often not within easy walking distance of homes, schools, work, or recreational sites.  Once purchased, these foods often need at least some preparation before they are ready to eat. All in all, satisfying hunger with a variety of nutrient-rich foods requires more planning, effort, and expense than with many “convenience” or fast foods.

Simultaneously, new modes of transportation requiring little effort, as well as sedentary work and entertainment options have come to occupy more daily hours than ever before imagined. At the flick of a switch, labor saving devises do the work previously requiring significant physical exertion, and hours of engaging amusement are available without ever leaving our chairs. These environmental changes have made health enhancing choices a challenge for most. Coupled with a host of other lifestyle changes, the resulting environment can easily be blamed for a sharp drop in nutrient-rich eating and physical activity. Kids need help today to navigate this environment, keeping their best interest at heart. The Healthy Bodies curriculum was developed as a guide for this purpose.

Mindless eating, disconnection from our bodies, and complacency about nutrition and fitness 

The number of children of all sizes today who lack balanced nutrition and are inactive is a great concern. Sometimes the basis for this is economic, and food is scarce. But when children of adequate means eat disproportionately of high-calorie/low nutrient foods or, alternatively, restrict calories and forego balanced nutrition for the purpose of weight loss, a disconnect both from their bodies, and from the primary purpose of eating well—for vitality, well-being, and enjoyment—is evident. When poor nutritional habits are accepted or supported by adults, either through the foods that are offered, through turning a blind eye, or through modeling, then a normative complacency about the relationship between health, nutrition, and fitness as a value in its own right can be expected in the next generation.  

Eating well and physical fitness require some time and effort. Children today need new incentives to eat a balanced, wholesome variety of food and to seek out activities that promote their physical fitness. When overall well-being replaces size or appearance as the primary enticement for a healthy lifestyle, then students of every size will have measurably better health. The Healthy Bodies curriculum teaches kids that there is an important connection between happiness, well being, confidence, and active, compassionate self-care for our bodies, providing children with new incentives to resist opposing pressures.

A Comprehensive Approach is Needed to Address These Concerns  

Underlying the extremes of eating disorders and a rapid rise in obesity are the culturally propagated seeds for the full range of body image, eating, fitness, and weight problems that are culturally “normal” and negatively affect most children today. It is these cultural risk factors that must be the focus of our educational efforts. It is important to note that students would not need a curriculum such as Healthy Bodies in a setting in which body esteem and a mindful connection to the body’s internal cues, respect for size diversity, internal hunger regulation, wholesome eating and physical fitness were well supported. Unfortunately, the context in which today's children grow up instead presents them from an early age with multiple, conflicting messages that specifically promote unhealthy perspectives and behaviors. These messages have an especially negative effect as children experience the natural reshaping of their bodies that comes with puberty.

Body-dissatisfaction, eating, fitness, and weight concerns are extremely difficult to reverse once they are established. While much remains to be learned, we now know enough about the cultural pressures that give rise to these concerns to prevent much of the trouble before it starts. Children can and should be taught from an early age to recognize and resist unhealthy pressures, to maintain body integrity, and to be motivated to make choices that will enhance their health and well-being. The Healthy Bodies curriculum is designed to positively and proactively support this objective.

“This updated edition of the most widely-used curriculum for preventing disordered eating and body image issues is even better than the original. Kater’s orientation is rooted in the most successful prevention programs and research. She presents a resource that should be incorporated into every fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classroom.”                                  
—Leigh Cohn, Editor-in-Chief, Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention

"This book is much more than a 'curriculum guide.' It is an inspiring integration of theory, curricular formats, practical suggestions, and creativity, all tailored to the developmental needs and interests of children ages 8 through 12. This manual radiates a spirit of simple and clear-sighted mindfulness, even as it fearlessly and humanely confronts a host of complex topics that are so important for prevention and health promotion. I will recommend Healthy Bodies not only to elementary school and middle school teachers, but also to parents, coaches, dietitians in training, and any others who are ready to advocate for healthier youth."                                       
—Michael P. Levine
, Ph.D., FAED, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Kenyon College, and former President of the National Eating Disorders Association

“Kathy Kater’s Healthy Bodies curriculum is a marvelous breath of fresh air in a sea of misinformation and confusion. This latest edition of her book is the most comprehensive, compassionate, and practical science-based approach for helping children (and their teachers and parents) to navigate the tricky road towards positive body-esteem and well-being. Incorporating the lessons contained in this book into the school curriculum will go a long way towards helping our kids to grow up feeling good about themselves by taking the best possible care of the wonderful and diverse bodies they have been youth."                                                        
—Jon Robison,
PhD MS, Department of Physiology, Michigan State University

“With our current rule-based and weight-focused approach to eating and physical activity, adults and children alike are confused and conflicted about how to support their own health. There is an incredible need for positive, rationale messages reinforcing the need to listen to and care for our bodies from the inside out. The lessons in Healthy Bodies serve this purpose, and provide a powerful foundation for health and wellness for today’s young students.”                                
—Michelle May MD
, founder of www.AmIHungry.com; author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.