Ordinarily, I save this space for more general information. This week, however, I am asking local parents to join me in raising your voice: I am concerned that the risks of in-school BMI screening and disclosure to students in school may outweigh the benefits.
Middle school and some elementary school students are participating in Fitnessgram, a national program designed to improve nutrition and increase physical activity. Students are weighed and measured, and then privately given their BMI number and told whether they fall within the “Healthy Fitness Zone.” This program is based on IOM recommendations which acknowledges that no single measure is the “gold standard” of all body composition. “The institute acknowledges concerns about BMI reporting and emphasizes that student data must be collected and reported validly and appropriately, with attention to privacy concerns and with information on referrals available if follow-up health services are needed.”
The Center for Weight Health at UC Berkeley has an excellent tool for performing a cost-benefit analysis of BMI screening in schools. It notes that “An overweight prevention pilot study…reported that among parents who were notified…that their children were…at risk for overweight, the most common nutritional responses were to “put child on a diet,” “skip meals or snacks,” or “give diet pills or herbal supplements.” They also caution staff to refrain from making “a diagnosis unless it’s within your scope of work and you are prepared to offer guidance and follow-up.” The American Academy of Pediatrics, in an article entitled Weight-Based Victimization: Bullying Experiences of Weight Loss Treatment–Seeking Youth, note that overweight adolescent students in their study reported being bullied not only by their peers, but also by trusted adults in their schools and homes. Another study by the American Medical Association showed that weight-based teasing produced a negative relationship to the emotional health of teens, and suggested that “Physicians and other health care providers should recognize the importance of weight-based teasing for young patients.”
I am asking the parents of children in our school district (and school districts where Fitnessgram is being implemented) to contact their school administrators and raise their concerns about sharing students’ BMI number with them in a school setting. Parents should ask what information is offered if students fall outside the “Healthy Fitness Zone,” what policies and procedures exist to prevent weight-based bullying and weight bias in the school, and what the school district is doing to make to ensure efforts to improve students’ health are supported by the school environment. Let administrators know that you want our students to learn to be healthy at every size.
Filed under: Food News