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‘Obesity’ Letters Anger Parents

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Some Massachusetts schools angered parents by sending letters home about students’ body shape and obesity status.

The program, an obvious attempt to do something about the ever-growing epidemic of childhood obesity, focuses primarily on the body mass index, (BMI), an estimate of body fat based on weight and height. For most people, the BMI is a fairly good indicator of one’s fitness.

But it doesn’t work for everyone, including a ten-year-old whose BMI reading classified him as “obese.” The boy’s mother says he plays football, participates in martial arts and wrestles. Since muscle weighs more than fat, a muscular person’s BMI could be on the high side because his weight would be high for his height.

The child’s mom says the school is focusing too much on the number and not enough on nutrition or hiring more gym teachers.

Sorry, but I have to disagree: we’re in a serious fight here, people. You have to start somewhere.

I can’t imagine that the school didn’t send an explanation of BMI along with the letters. Maybe no such explanation was present, but then that would have been a grievous error on the school’s part; a reasonable explanation would have made it clear that BMI isn’t a “perfect” measure and that other factors need to be taken into account. A reasonable explanation, however, would have also mentioned that BMI is a widely-accepted measure that can indicate a problem.

If such an explanation was included, then it’s the parents who are “focusing too much on the number.”

Talking about nutrition is not enough. Hiring more gym teachers is not enough.

Schools should be doing everything they can to get the message to parents; today’s parents, as we’ve heard over and over again, are more likely than any other generation in our history to outlive their own children because of obesity-related health problems.

Schools need to be doing everything they can to help.

Frankly, as “embarrassed” as I might have been with a BMI letter when I was a student, I wish my school would have sent one home to my folks. Maybe that would have prevented me from having such a weight issue later in life, one that I’m still fighting.

We need to stop being so sensitive and learn to deal with problems. It takes stepping out of denial and it takes the willingness to stop complaining about any little effort made to alleviate the problem. If leaving it up to parents alone were a valid solution, we wouldn’t have the weight epidemic to begin with.

Should schools get “into the act” of fighting obesity? Of course: they’re supposed to be educating students. And education is a major weapon in the fight.

That’s my take, at least. What’s yours?

Your Turn:
How do you feel about schools sending letters home indicating a child’s BMI? Is it a case of a school overstepping its bounds, or should parents have that information so they can evaluate their child’s health sooner?

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Actually, talking about nutrition and hiring more gym teachers would be a far more constructive start to addressing the problem. Including more time for movement and physical activity during the school day would also be huge. Getting school meals under control for calories, fat, and carbohydrates would be a huge help, too. Schools are about teaching kids, right? Supporting lessons in good nutrition with providing good nutrition would be a huge step to helping out parents who are trying to teach those lessons at home. My kid gets so much homework, I found we had no time at home to get him outside to play, and he only gets gym 3 times a week (an no recess!) I was feeding him next to nothing (and packing in lunches- did you know school lunches can be 1000 calories?) and he was still gaining weight because he was given no time to move around! If I got such a letter from our school, you bet I would be at the school board at the next meeting, demanding what CONSTRUCTIVE action was being taken, rather than embarrassing kids and families? I would come ready with plenty of suggestions, because there are plenty of ways to fix the problem, but one must be consistent between home and school for any of them to work. 


“@OrganizerSandy: ‘Obesity’ Letters Anger Parents via @patricksplace” to bad.I guess they don't like bad marks either


Reason number 424 I'm glad we are homeschooling our kids.

 I kind of agree with psalm23 - I'd take a look at my kid and if I thought everything was good, I'd toss the letter without another thought.

Some kids are just picky eaters. My daughter would eat anything you put in front of her, my son – not so much. You get to the point where you are just glad they are eating anything, and you worry about the nutrition stuff later. My son's allergy to egg whites only makes it worse. 

Some BMI charts are actually produced by/for the life/health insurance industry. They are weighted to make more people obese in order to justify higher premiums.

Children who are born to mothers who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes are more likely to have weight issues regardless of diet or exercise.

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Honestly? If parents can't look at their kids and tell they're overweight, then a letter home isn't going to help. I would be annoyed and throw the damn letter away once I realized what it was. Kids have to have physicals and shots to get through most school systems. The doctors are already telling parents about obesity--my son, who was perfectly on the middle of the charts at the time, got lectured BIG TIME about eating right when he went into high school, and so did I. He's in college now, and currently running an online exercise/diet program to keep him from blowing out his waistband. He's not fat, but he has what I would call a Belly Protrusion Issue that hasn't advanced to the state of Dunlop's Disease.

Frankly, it was hard enough to hear that I was a bad parent when the doctor told me (not in those words, of course), but if I heard from the school about it, I'd be pissed off, especially since most of the PE teachers here are not in great shape. At least the doctor was doing what she was telling us to do!

Cathryn (aka Strange)
Cathryn (aka Strange)

I rememberl that our local school district did the same thing when my girls were in school. The school calculated every child's BMI and sent home letter to parents with their child's BMI and an explanation of what BMI was.  They also sent home ideas on what families can do to help get their children in shape.  Serving healthier food and encouraging exercise were 2 of the suggestions.

I also recall a massive amount of backlash from parents and this program was not continued the next year.  It seems that some parents thought that THEY were being judged as well as their child. 

I agree with you that people need to stop denying there is a problem and take steps to deal with the situation - even if that means that you need to reconsider what you are serving your family for dinner and what sorts of foods you allow your children to eat.  If parents would try to come up with activities to do together  with their children that involved physical activity - like biking or hiking - that would make a difference, as well.