More Schools Issuing BMI Report Cards
> 1/8/2007 11:48:21 AM

It's one thing for a school to send notes home when a child isfailing class, misbehaving or accumulating a substantial number ofabsences. But an increasing number of schools in this country andothers now include an unfamiliar slip along with the semester's grades:an assessment of a child's Body Mass Indexand the potential for his or her weight to develop into a debilitatingmedical 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 relatedmedical complications facing millions of American children. Thisproblem will not resolve itself and the only answer seems to be someform of intervention, be it medical, dietary, or lifestlyle-centered.The question at hand is how far schools should gotoward identifying problem cases and working toward healthy solutions,especially when their own practices often seem to perpetuate theepidemic: physical exams have long been required for every student, butthe 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 physicalactivity, the number of hours dedicated to educating students on thesetopics is woefully small. Many implementation issues come back tostates and local districts, who must approve of and allocate fundingfor these programs.

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

Afirst study of the effects of annual reporting of BMI status toparents, conducted with elementary school children and their parents inCambridge, Massachusetts, indicated that parents of overweight childrenwho received health reports were more likely to consider looking intomedical help, dieting, and physical activities for their children thanwere parents who did not receive such notices.

Making a young child aware of his or her relative weight willtheoretically lead more students to actively avoid unhealthy practicesin the future, but critics say it also raises the risk for eatingdisorders and ridicule. Some shocked parents rightly question therelevance of measuring a six-year old's body mass, much less sending ithome on a card. Such early awareness of weight issues can feed intodeveloping uncertainty about appearance, and kids whose cases aremarked for review may feel as if they've done something wrong. Childrenlarge and small report discussing their scores and being the butt oftheir schoolmates' jokes. In addition to these concerns, educators haveyet to reach a critical consensus on what, exactly, should be done incases where an intervention is deemed necessary. How responsible shouldschools be for charting a student's adherence to his or her individualhealth 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 inorder to fully implement any further programs.

Ofcourse, the causes of obesity reach far beyond the schoolhouse, andthese programs will show little success without the cooperation oflocal and national businesses, advertisers and food providers. The ideaof fast-food restaurant chains changing their menus to help childrenlose weight is unlikely to gain much support from the business sector,so a disproportionate amount of responsibility may rest with parentsand teachers. Schools cannot address the situation on their own, buttheir collaborative efforts are absolutely essential, and theconversation will continue.

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