More Schools Issuing BMI Report Cards
> 1/8/2007 11:15:44 AM

It's one thing for a school to send notes home when a child is failing class, misbehaving or accumulating a substantial number of absences. But an increasing number of schools in this country and others now include an unfamiliar slip along with the semester's grades: an assessment of a child's Body Mass Index and the potential for his or her weight to develop into a debilitating medical issue. While some districts have seen sucess under this plan, concerned parents and psychologists wonder about the negative effects the policy may have on the eating habits and self-esteem of the students affected.

Every day brings new media coverage of the weight problems and related medical complications facing millions of American children. This problem will not resolve itself and the only answer seems to be some form of intervention, be it medical, dietary, or lifestlyle-centered. The question at hand is how far schools should go toward identifying problem cases and working toward healthy solutions, especially when their own practices often seem to perpetuate the epidemic: physical exams have long been required for every student, but the cafeteria offerings at American schools are notoriously unhealthy, and time devoted to phys ed at the same schools has declined across the board. While the majority of states require some form of "health education" and most require specific instruction on nutrition and physical activity, the number of hours dedicated to educating students on these topics is woefully small. Many implementation issues come back to states and local districts, who must approve of and allocate funding for these programs.

Awareness of school BMI reports is relatively new though they've been in by different school districts in the US since 2002. They are more common in the UK, where they've brought about encouraging results:

A first study of the effects of annual reporting of BMI status to parents, conducted with elementary school children and their parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts, indicated that parents of overweight children who received health reports were more likely to consider looking into medical help, dieting, and physical activities for their children than were parents who did not receive such notices.

Making a young child aware of his or her relative weight will theoretically lead more students to actively avoid unhealthy practices in the future, but critics say it also raises the risk for eating disorders and ridicule. Some shocked parents rightly question the relevance of measuring a six-year old's body mass, much less sending it home on a card. Such early awareness of weight issues can feed into developing uncertainty about appearance, and kids whose cases are marked for review may feel as if they've done something wrong. Children large and small report discussing their scores and being the butt of their schoolmates' jokes. In addition to these concerns, educators have yet to reach a critical consensus on what, exactly, should be done in cases where an intervention is deemed necessary. How responsible should schools be for charting a student's adherence to his or her individual health plan? How far can they go in advising parents and caregivers? How will they pay for the costs these changes will inevitably require? Most will need to hire additional health specialists and nurses in order to fully implement any further programs.

Of course, the causes of obesity reach far beyond the schoolhouse, and these programs will show little success without the cooperation of local and national businesses, advertisers and food providers. The idea of fast-food restaurant chains changing their menus to help children lose weight is unlikely to gain much support from the business sector, so a disproportionate amount of responsibility may rest with parents and teachers. Schools cannot address the situation on their own, but their collaborative efforts are absolutely essential, and the conversation will continue.


Good grief. What's next? Wouldn't it be good to inspect children for dental hygiene? After all, we now know that this can be a serious health issue. How about skin lesions, particularly skin lesions in certain sensitive areas that could indicate very serious social diseases that could lead to blindness, sterility, insanity, or even death? Should we report to students on these issues and more?It is hubris beyond that of classical Greek literature for educators to imagine that this is their business, or that without their intervention, parents would be unaware of the weight of their children and/or the possible health consequences. I have more than enough to do with my daily lessons. How is it that the proponents of such nanny-statism have so much free time on their hands?
Posted by: Mike 1/10/2007 10:56:07 AM

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