School Weight Screenings and "Fat Letters" Aren't New

20 states have implemented mandatory BMI calculations as part of their health screenings to help combat the childhood obesity epidemic. If the student is discovered to be overweight a "fat letter" is sent home.

Sounds reasonable, right? No. It's outrageous, according to some experts:
Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, says she's "totally opposed to BMI report cards." She says they can lead to discrimination and bullying and can actually encourage unhealthy eating behaviors in children who are labeled too heavy. "Our entire premise here at the National Eating Disorders Association is that we should be focused on health, not weight." 
Weight is connected to health. If you are overweight or underweight it's not healthy. An eating disorder specialist such as Ms. Grefe knows that anorexia isn't healthy-- so it's very disingenuous to speak of focusing on health while ignoring weight.

Here's a "fat letter" from a Portland, Maine school in 1959 I have in my collection:


Also notice that it was part of a health education curriculum. What could be healthier than that?

What do you think? Are weight screenings and "fat letters" something that should be banned?

Comments

  1. Well, I'm sort of for and against this at the same time. I personally did *not* like that the school nurse shouted to the recorder, "121 pounds!" when I was in 6th grade. I was 5' 6" at the time, so this isn't really overweight or anything. However, it was the highest weight in my class. It made me feel fatter than I actually was.

    Certain of my kids had a widening year before some lengthening years. My teen son, who is now skinny beyond belief, had a year where he was thick and stocky. My middle daughter, who is currently size 4, had a stocky year too. I'm not sure if an extra 10 to 15 pounds isn't normal for some years of the growth process--right before the growing by leaps and bounds happens.

    So I think that parents should definitely be aware if there children are in the "obese" categories of BMI. But for "overweight" classification, I know a lot of kids in that category who are either very muscle-y or just grow out of it. :D

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    1. I'm not for public announcements of weight and BMI in the way you describe happened with the nurse. The thing I like about this is that it can be a teaching- and not a shaming tool for kids. I was overweight as a pre-teen and I always thought of it as an issue of not liking how I looked. I would have welcomed an opportunity to have excess weight explained to me in a non-shaming way that taught me the value of its relationship to good health. : )

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  2. I saw a report on this on the news also. I'm all right with the schools doing this. The letter recommends seeing the child's doctor there is no penalty for the child. There are plenty of things where schools test and evaluate children and many of them are not fun!

    I suppose we won't be seeing too many "My Child Is A High BMI Achiever" bumper stickers, lol!

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  3. My issue with the whole thing (I saw the story on the news as well.) is that the BMI scale is used, which as you've said, Averyl, is flawed. Or at least not telling the whole story. I agree with Marion that kids don't always grow in proportion. It's a scientific fact that girls gain a bit of weight before getting their first period. I've seen neighbor boys become pudgy in the fall and grow 6 inches by spring and be rail thin.

    Sarah H.

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    1. Sarah, you're right!

      I would love to see schools go back to the 50s weight standards. I know that's not happening, so I think flawed BMI used in conjunction with an overall screening/assessment is better than none. I think it should be a starting point for education and awareness and not a judgement about worth.

      The girl featured in the news story was obviously athletic but given the reality of the statistics of childhood obesity, most aren't. There also needs to be a way to screen for children/teens who are too thin. Again the spirit of the results shouldn't be an exercise in shame but health education.

      I think parents who recognize that can help instead of hinder the process by teaching their children it's not a terrible thing to have their weight/health checked out by their doctor are part of the solution. And if they fall into the categories you and Marion describe and their MD thinks they are healthy, no harm other than a co-pay/out of pocket expenses. THAT could be another blog/book, not one I will ever tackle. : )

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    2. (Typo correction: "I think parents who recognize that can help instead of hinder the process by teaching their children it's not a terrible thing to have their weight/health checked out by their doctor. They are part of the solution.")

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  4. I am for them. I gained all my weight in school by just doing what everyone else did. I wish someone had given me a warning. Recently, I went over a friend's house and her 13 year old came with us shopping. Her 13 year old was in 1x. For me, that would have set off the alarm bells but mom was just too oblivious.

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    1. A respectful warning along with a plan of action can go a long way. Again I think too many are protecting feelings at the expense of health and teaching young adults to not take weight to mean their worth as a person.

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  5. I feel it is only ok if the letter is sent out privately. The fact that a child's weight was shouted out is horrible. I agree with letting parents know that their children are at an unhealthy weight just not with public humiliation of a child.
    Lalie

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  6. I was mixed up with reading Marion's comment and thought that she had said a child's weight was shouted out then realized it was her weight when she was young that was shouted out (which is horrible :( ) Sorry about the mix up.
    I do agree with letters being sent out privately but not publicly relaying a child's weight in front of the others.

    Lalie

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    1. Speaking of public humiliation, I recall having a PT test in front of everyone in my class. My sadistic gym teacher used to berate me in front of everyone because I was slow and klutzy. Instead of encouraging me she blew her whistle, shook her head and made snide remarks. Not that I still resent her to this day or anything...well... : )

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