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Weighing in on common school health monitoring practices

Obesity among youth is a critical public health problem in the United States. As a result, many schools have taken efforts to prevent obesity among children. Though well-intentioned, some of these measures miss the mark, leading to equally critical problems of low self-esteem and eating disorders.

One of my most vivid memories as a child is being weighed in front of my entire 5th grade class. As a girl who struggled with weight issues, a public weigh-in was traumatizing. Children and adolescents have enough pressure to perform well in school, athletics, and amongst their peers. Piling on the pressure of a weigh-in only adds anxiety to the already difficult process of growing up and fitting in.

Though public school weigh-ins may be a thing of the past, today many schools attempt to fight the war on childhood obesity by conducting “fitness tests”, and measuring and reporting the body mass index (BMI) of students in schools. Today, at least 19 states require school-based BMI screening. Some schools go as far as to display BMI results on report cards.

Though these measures are intended to promote wellness, is that the end result? Many parents and clinicians point out that putting such sensitive information in the hands of impressionable, self-conscious kids can contribute to eating disorder behaviors and bullying. For a child with low self-esteem, imagine how demoralizing it would be to not only receive a “D” in “History” but an “At Risk” in “BMI Rating”.

I see tremendous opportunity for improvement in school-based fitness and BMI tracking. Schools, teachers and parents should go about these types of assessments with great care and caution. First, protect the privacy of students. Secondly, respect the sensitivity of the subject at hand. No child wants or deserves to be subject to public embarrassment – on stage or on a report card.

How do schools in your area report on obesity? What are your thoughts?

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