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This fall, parents in some parts of the nation will receive letters from their child’s school saying their child is too heavy. This is meant to be a prevention and education tactic to combat the increasing number of children with or at risk for conditions like type 2, but it is raising many an eyebrow.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that over 15 percent of young people, ages 6 to 19, are overweight. In some states, the percentage is much higher.
Although these numbers are frightening and although this interest in prevention is necessary, we must ask: Is it the responsibility of schools to measure and report on child health?
Could Lead to Discrimination and Profiling
There are several issues to consider here. One of the biggest is how this information is going to reach parents. Some schools propose including BMI information on report cards.
While this method may save schools the cost of extra printing and postage, it raises a great deal of concern. Do parents really want their child’s personal health information and identifiers put on permanent school records? This could lead to forms of discrimination and profiling.
We must also consider data collection and consistency. Is it possible to make sure the information is gathered correctly and uniformly across the nation? Like recent challenges to BMI accuracy for athletes, BMI scores have been found to be inappropriate measures for some children because of confounding factors like puberty and growth spurts.
Also cause for pause, the potential psychological ramifications this information gathering could have on youth. We need to make sure that in our quest for prevention we are not exacerbating other problems like low self-esteem and negative self-perception.
Finally, what about the back-end of this issue? What do schools and governments really want to accomplish by this data collection? If the answer is prevention, which I suspect it is, could there be a better way?
It seems to me that schools have another part to play in this crisis. That role is to both control the school environment and teach health basics to youth instead of measuring and potentially humiliating students through such measurements.
For starters, how about reinstating daily physical education? Why not provide healthier lunches, breakfasts and school vending options?
These seem to be better options to affect long-term change.
Health Education First
Before measuring students, let’s try a reinvigorated approach to health education, including lessons on choice and decision making. In this, schools could make recommendations to families about BMI-type measurements—educating the students and care-givers about standards to be discussed with their choice of medical professional.
The American Diabetes Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have responded to this issue with a message of support for better health communication and education. Some of their suggestions are:
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