A total of 25 states weigh public school students to monitor obesity rates. In 10 of these states, parents are then notified. Today s New York Times addresses these BMI report cards and their effect on students' weight (or lack thereof).
This tactic is meant to identify students who are potentially at risk for weight-related problems and to prompt parents to act by seeking medical diagnosis and taking steps to change their child s eating or exercise habits. Some nutritionists and parent groups think the letters contribute to eating disorders and poor body image for a demographic that is particularly sensitive to the stigma associated with being overweight.
In some schools, there is no privacy screen when they re being weighed, and the process is embarrassing for them, said Mary T. Story, a Duke University expert on adolescent obesity.
School BMI assessments are definitely controversial but are they effective? A recent study led by Dr. Kevin A. Gee, assistant professor at University of California - Davis School of Education, found that the letters have had almost no effect on older teenagers weight in the first state to adopt the practice, Arkansas.
The results of his study: BMI screening and parental notification during late adolescence, given prior screening and notification in early adolescence, was not significantly related to BMI-for-age z-scores, the probability of being in a lower weight classification or exercise and dietary intake behaviors. The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
A 2011 study found similar results among 5th, 7th, and 9th graders in California. The conclusion of this study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, was: These findings suggest that while BMI screening itself could have benefits, parental notification in its current form may not reduce pediatric obesity. Until effective methods of notification are identified, schools should consider directing resources to policies and programs proven to improve student health.
A letter home in high school doesn t make a lot of sense, said Dr. Story. Most teenagers already know when they re overweight.
Currently, public health experts are split as to whether or not schools should be monitoring students BMIs. The CDC has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to recommend for or against such programs. The US Institute of Medicine, however, recommends such practice in schools annually. The American Academy of Pediatrics maintains that annual BMI assessments should only be conducted by family physicians.