I got an interesting comment on a recent post about parents' perceptions of their children's weight and it raises a number of questions about whether schools should track your child's body mass index (BMI). Jean says:
"I just recieved a letter from my daughter's school saying she is overweight, not even at risk of being overweight. My daughter is 9 yrs old and swims on a swim team twice a week, besides just playing outside. I was really upset because I make sure she makes healthy choices and does not sit in front of the tv. She is all muscle, but that is not taken into consideration. Furthermore, the school sells ice cream and honey buns for snacks at lunch. I checked her BMI using other calculators and she comes up being at a healthy weight. I really feel if the school is getting involved they need to consider all factors, including what they serve for lunch. I also do not see any instructional material for parents or children about healthy eating or exercise presented. They really need to practice what they preach and consider the repercussions of their actions."
I'm sure many parents would be upset by getting a note like that from the school, whether it's accurate or not, and it does raise some questions about whether, and how, schools should monitor a child's BMI. There's an interesting study about this in the journal Pediatrics, discussing different ways schools track and use BMI numbers. Some schools, such as those in New York use a 'survellience' method of tracking BMI. The purpose is to gather BMI data anonymously to monitor and track the general obesity levels student-wide.
Other schools, like Jean's, use BMI as a screening tool to help reduce childhood obesity and keep parents informed about their children's weight and health.
Jean's comment raises a number of concerns about the use of BMI as a screening tool. First, should schools even monitor a child's BMI in the first place? Is it an effective tool for reducing childhood obesity? Do we risk putting pressure on kids who may already have problems with body image and fitting in at school? And then there's Jean's concern, that the calculations they're using aren't accurate and that the school isn't taking some responsibility for the problem.
Then there's the issue of BMI itself, which is already a questionable method for determining whether a person is overweight, at least for some populations. Not only that, while it's fairly easy to determine if an adult is overweight, kids are different. They haven't finished growing and the calculations we use for adults won't work for them. There are even special charts and calculators specifically for kids and different ways to determine whether they're overweight.
What's happening in your schools when it comes to BMI and what do you think about it? Are they monitoring this kind of thing in your kids and keeping you informed? Should they? Leave a comment and tell us what's going on and what you think about it. What would you do in Jean's situation?