The Fat Letter- Republished

As soon as the news clip of up-and-coming stories popped up, I knew. A girl somewhere received a BMI letter. The body mass index (BMI) is a measurement of proper weight determined by an individual’s weight and height. If the BMI calculator was more sophisticated, it might take age and activity level into consideration. The chart itself reads as though you are looking for your pantyhose size. Like the number on your jeans, it only means what you think it means. I’m .9 out of the “normal range” of BMI. The youth featured on the news does not appear to have an unhealthy body shape either.

So why the massive BMI collection? Every article cites state laws to combat the obesity as problem. Where have all the investigative journalists gone? It is because grant programs to combat obesity (in schools) require progress reports. They measure the pre and post results to see if their money (or taxpayer money) was well spent. The question shouldn’t be whether they measure BMI, but if the schools should share the information with parents.

The school in question could have done a better job of informing the parents about the BMI tests and the purpose, but would the reaction have been different? Naturally, if the school is assessing Lazy Mom’s child, I wants to know the results. Whether or not I would share them with my child depends greatly on the results. It appears that not all parents can handle BMI information without creating a national social debate.

BMI information is not particularly useful to parents. If your child is under or overweight, the letter will not be a surprise. If your child is strong (aka muscular) you would generally disregard a BMI letter knowing muscle weighs more than fat. You might even disregard the letter if you know there is nothing wrong with your child and the test itself is not the most accurate measurement of health and fitness.

The National Eating Disorders Council stated opinions against BMI letters, and I rather agree, but not for the same reason. When I was anorexic in my early 20s my BMI was in the “healthy weight”. That information would have provided me with a crutch to lean on and reinforce my unhealthy behavior. I do not agree that a BMI letter will create a child with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are more complicated than that and do not happen overnight. Overeating is also an eating disorder, and potentially could be detected through the use of BMI measurements (physically active but still not losing weight).

The news coined the term “Fat Letter” because it is catchy and makes a woman outraged, but that is not really what happened. Regardless of this one student, are there others who need this assessment in order to make changes towards healthier behavior? Can the school report back on the grant results of BMI without consulting parents? Can a parent tell her kid “There is nothing wrong with you and this does not mean a thing” so that the person this was meant to benefit can actually receive the tools needed to create healthy habits for their life?

Nation- calm down and admit these measurements will take place regardless of your outcry. Kaiser Permanente performed a study and found that 90% of Americans think schools should intervene on the “childhood obesity epidemic”. If you want the schools to intervene, they need money. You can’t ask them to do this then deny them the one contingency to receive funding. I would prefer to have documentation sent home than to be shut in the dark.

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