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Health sciences students spread messages about positive body image

If you have recently walked around the Djavad Mowafaghian Atrium at SFU’s Burnaby campus, you might have chanced upon beautiful chalk drawings created by students taking Health Sciences 345: Tweens to Twenties – Texts, Two-fours and Tattoos. The drawings send positive messages on body image and are part of a class initiative that addresses eating disorders.

The course, taught by health sciences lecturer Rochelle Tucker, explores health issues faced by adolescents and young adults. These include bullying, non-medical prescription drug use, and sexual and mental health. Students learn how to assess adolescents’ and young adults’ health status, and also examine how gender, ethnicity, socio-economic position and sexual identity can influence adolescent health.

“Class activities revolve around critically assessing published literature on adolescent health and programs that promote health during this critical age,” says Tucker, who has been teaching the course since 2007.

“The chalk drawings were part of an initiative to highlight programs that have been successful.”

The drawings were an effort to emulate programs that have been effective in discouraging unhealthy eating behaviours, poor body image, and lower self-esteem in youths once they adopt beliefs contrary to their current values. Tucker’s students worked in groups to develop messages countering the unrealistic thin ideal of beauty often found in the media. Their messages were then incorporated into the public chalk drawings.

“My group came up with the phrase "Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes," says Gabriella Testani, a BA health sciences major. “We drew various fruits to represent different body shapes. We were a group composed of four girls of different heights, builds and sizes so we felt that this phrase was extremely relevant.”

Gabriella Luongo, who is completing a B.Sc .in health sciences, says: “This is an enjoyable course I would highly recommend to any student. It gave me a comprehensive understanding of the health issues that adolescents and young adults face today. As someone looking to pursue a career in the medical field, this course was very useful. We will need to continue providing health services that are sensitive to the needs of youths who face a wide variety of challenges.”

Tucker hopes that the course empowers students to go beyond the classroom to take action on issues that affect their peers.

“I hope that they were able to appreciate their personal experience of adolescence from what they have learned in class.”