Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Will Texas Students' BMI Make the Grade?  
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Or: The No Child's Behind Left Behind Program.

It almost goes without saying that the seeds of a good idea often bloom into twisted weeds in the hands of politicians. Case in point: a bill proposed by Sen. Letitia Van de Putte [D-TX] that would require Texas schools to include information on students' Body Mass Index [BMI] on report cards. Considering that one third of Lone Star State kids would be classified as "overweight" or "obese," I can (in a way) understand the bill's "good intentions," for alerting parents about children's potential health problems caused by excessive weight. However, as Eric Allen of the Association for Texas Professional Educators stated,
'...most parents don't need to be told their child is overweight...'
Neither would most students, I might add.

In addition there is a logical error in Van de Putte's argument: BMI alone does not actually calulate body fat based on height [a "pinch" test, waist-to-hip ratio or ideally a hydrostatic (underwater) weighing is needed], as this online BMI calculator from the Centers for Disease Control shows - but mass in proportion to height. Although statistically there are more of the former than the latter, a "heavy" (over-fat) youngster and a heavily-muscled high school wrestler of the same height could both have 'unacceptably' high BMI indexes.

Rather than being a useful indicator of students' overall health, BMI indexes on report cards seem to unfortunately associate body weight/appearance with scholastic acheievement - and personally, I think the last thing kids need is another "number" to live up to.

Frankly, reporting student's BMI numbers to parents is probably next to useless. As Eric Allen stated above, parents don't need report cards to tell them their child is overweight, and getting a report of a "bad" BMI doesn't automatically translate to the long-term motivation and lifestyle change required for kids (and in most cases, their families) to achieve lasting weight loss and improved overall health.

Here's a better idea, I think: have school health departments screen kids for serious but "invisible" problems such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and send home basic health reports in which student BMI's could be also included. Considering that many students from poorer or uninsured families may not receive even routine checkups, this sort of preventive screening might be a more effective way of catching chronic disease early and saving lives.

Now if only schools would stop cutting physical education programs and budgets - and stop accepting soft-drink and fast-food onsite sales dollars - maybe we'd make some progress (and as Cindy mentions in the comments, if schools would address the issue of the "six hundred candy bars [kids are] supposed to whore around town so the school can have [a] computer lab?" Indeed!)