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‘Obesity’ Letters Anger Parents


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?


  1. 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.

    1. @daviest They probably don’t. I just doubt they’d go this crazy if their students failed history.

  2. 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.

    1. TedtheThird When I was a kid, especially up to kindergarten, I was such a picky eater that I didn’t like much of anything. I was too skinny because I just didn’t like most of what was given to me. My mom was so grateful when I finally started eating that she was afraid to do too much to wreck that. 
      Unfortunately, I didn’t get the message I should have about when to STOP eating, so as we celebrated the fact that I was actually cleaning my plate, we didn’t talk much about avoiding that second helping.
      I do wish now that I’d learned that lesson sooner rather than later.
      As for the BMI charts produced by the insurance industry to justify higher premiums, I would tend to view that as a chance to beat them at their own game! 🙂

  3. 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!

    1. psalm23 Ha! I was familiar with Dunlops Disease, along with a few other versions that probably aren’t appropriate for mixed company! 🙂 
      I don’t know if medical checkups have changed since I was in school, but once I got a few years into elementary school, since I stayed generally healthy, I ended up not going to a doctor for YEARS. In fact, when it was time for a checkup, my favorite doctor had already retired and I was forced to find a new one. If I’d had to go more often, I suspect my doc would have had a serious talk with my parents back then.
      But to your point, if parents can’t look at their kids and tell that they’re overweight, shouldn’t SOMETHING be done to illustrate that problem for them? After all, I’d think a parent is still the “first line of defense” where their own kids’ health is concerned.

      1. patricksplace psalm23 Around here, kids have to have a physical before they enter each school (Kindergarten, elementary, middle, high) and at least once year if they’re in sports. There are usually shots involved in the early years, and the doctor has to sign off every time that the kid is up to date on everything. No shots=no public education. Very few doctors will sign off unless/until they see the kid in person.

        However, my main argument is that if the parents don’t/won’t notice their kid is fat, a letter home is NOT going to make a difference. Parents are not always going to put their kids before their egos.

  4. 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.

    1. Cathryn (aka Strange) I agree that it would be ideal if parents would act before they get into a situation that forces them to act (or to deny there’s a problem at all). 
      But how sad it is that even with the explanation you mentioned of what BMI is, parents still chose to miss the point and view it as a personal attack.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.