MomTalk Talks Managing Your Child's Weight: Whose Job Is It Anyway?

Did you happen to see that inconspicuous sheet of paper included in the massive Back-to-School paperwork packet about BMI testing? The Mamas and the Papa did. Well, mostly...

The paper required no action on your part, so it's likely that you breezed over it, what with the other 3,000 pages of redundant information required. Due to state mandate, the school will be tracking our children's BMI, recording it, and saving it in their "private records." What are your thoughts on the role of the schools in managing your child's weight? Is BMI the best way to do that?


Tasha Schlake Festel

I respectfully request that I be allowed to parent my own child without intervention from the public school system, however well-meaning.

I am responsible for keeping my children healthy. I do not need anyone besides me, my husband and my pediatrician to be involved in my children's healthcare. While I understand that the intent of the BMI tracking program is to keep children in fine fettle, I don't like the schools (a.k.a. the government) keeping track of my kids' weights, no matter what the reason.

Maybe I'm paranoid, but it freaks me out. I don't want someone in a gray suit and Aviators knocking on my door one day to check my refrigerator and interrogate me on what I fed my kids for dinner. Managing a child's weight is the job of the parents, not the schools.

And while we're on the topic of weight management, BMI is absolutely not a reliable means to measure. According to the numbers, I am in the "normal weight" category. But just by 2 pounds. If I were weighed and measured on a bad day, I'd be "overweight." Meh. I would go home from that degrading weigh-in, thinking of myself as a total fatty. I would forget that I am fit and strong. I would forget that I bust my ass 6 times a week with running, lifting, and Fight Fit at Defensive Edge. I would forget that I have an "athletic build" with muscle. All I would remember is that someone told me I was overweight.

I don't want this for my kids. Do you?

What about those kids who are big for their age? They're tall and solid. We all know them. Their parents don't think they're fat, neither do their friends, and neither do their pediatricians. However, their BMI may say otherwise. Should these kids, who may already be self conscious about being "bigger" than their peers, be labeled as "overweight" by their schools? What does that tell them? Let me introduce you to Eating Disorder and Poor Body Image.

I don't know what my kids' "numbers" are and I don't care to. And I don't want them to know either. At their young ages, the last thing they should worry about is weight. I know, I know. All information will be kept private. Except... well... baloney! That stuff never stays private! The kids will all be asking each other what they weigh on the date of the "weigh in" and the ones who don't want to share that statistic will be teased and labeled with the f-word. Fat.

Kids also go through growth spurts. I don't know about your kids, but mine always grow out before they grow up. There are times when they're sporting some serious bellies. But in just a month, they seem to have grown 6 inches. What happens if they get weighed during that "thick" time when their growing bodies are preparing to sprout up? That BMI, on that day, will be saved forever. And while the record will show patterns since the kids will be measured in 1st, 4th, 7th and 10th grades, the kid who gets the label "overweight" or "obese" hung around his neck won't care about the trend. He just cares that someone thinks he's fat.

Weight is a serious issue. A healthy lifestyle is critical. I don't dispute those things at all, and demonstrate my commitment to being strong, healthy and fit every day through my activities, what I eat, what I feed my kids, and our pursuit of an active lifestyle. What I do dispute is having the school tell me if my kid is fat. Leave that up to the bullies.


Regina Martine

I have to say that I didn’t notice the BMI letter in the heap of back-to-school paperwork, and I don’t think I would have thought much of it if I had. I’m not really sure what all the controversy is about. Do they post the results on a bulletin board for all to see? Do the kids with higher BMIs have to take extra gym classes? What’s the problem? I think that as a society, we are very sensitive to issues surrounding body image and weight, and that sometimes stops us from addressing potential problems. Telling a parent that their child’s weight is too high and could cause future health problems isn’t meant to be cruel or to make the child feel bad. It may be the best way to get that child the help that he or she needs. It’s easy to say “that’s none of their business” when it comes to tracking information like weight and BMI, but teaching kids to make healthy choices about food and exercise are just as much a part of preparing kids for life as their academic lessons.

This isn’t really anything new. Height and weight were recorded when I was in school, BMI is just a calculation of the ratio of those two numbers. It doesn’t take body composition into account, so a more muscular person would have a higher BMI than a person with less muscle mass, even if they have a healthy level of body fat. The real question is – is BMI a good indicator of overall health? Is it discussed in conjunction with nutrition lessons or fitness assessments? BMI by itself doesn’t say much about the whole picture of a kid’s health, but is probably worth tracking as one piece of information that is part of a larger assessment. So, why is it the school’s business to keep track of this information? Because the sooner a problem is detected, the sooner it can be resolved.

Schools already screen for vision and hearing problems, speech problems, learning disabilities, social problems, psychological problems, scoliosis, and more. Most parents would be glad to learn that the school discovered a hearing problem or a learning disability in their child so that the proper interventions could be taken as soon as possible. Why don’t we have the same attitude towards physical health?

The role of the school is to prepare kids for adult life — Most of that preparation is academic, but learning how to keep their bodies healthy is a big part of their future well being once they leave the public schools.


Melissa Schools

It is with some guilt feelings that I sit down to write about the school district’s program to measure and record its students’ BMI, having just polished off a sizeable portion of apple crisp. (M’mmm, apple crisp!)

This has potential to be a very complicated issue, depending on angle of approach. Like most school programs, I imagine it has its roots in good intentions. It could be argued that it is for the good of all the students and can provide valuable statistics to compare statewide or nationwide. The letter sent home to the parents, though, states that the results will be recorded and kept private.

What is the real point, then? My guess is that it is an attempt to gather at-risk students in yet another net of intervention. I’ve heard it said that if your pets or children are overweight or obese, it’s your fault. The premise here is that as adults, we are responsible for choosing and providing the food our kids (and pets) eat. If I don’t buy processed junk food and am mindful of portion size, it’s pretty unlikely that my kids (and pets) will be overweight. Add to that a responsibility to see to it that physical activity is part of everyday life, and weight shouldn’t be an issue.

The situation becomes less black-and-white, however, if you consider that most families’ weeks are jam-packed and short on time between work and activities schedules. Many families struggle to sit down to nightly dinners together, settling instead for convenience foods on the go. Many parents struggle with making good food and exercise choices themselves. If parents are overweight and sedentary, there is a good chance that the kids will follow suit.

So, basically, while I guess the point of measuring BMI of students is to raise awareness about healthy weight, I can’t see it making much of an impact. Imagine getting a letter from the school telling you that your kid is overweight or obese. Chances are, you already know that, even if you are functioning in denial. It’s more likely that such a notice would feel like a chastisement rather than a wake-up call that will result in a whole family changing their eating and exercise habits.

My kids don’t struggle with weight or exercise issues. They get regular check-ups at their doctor’s office. Their BMI is not an issue, so I don’t much care whether they get measured or not. I do appreciate very much, however, that the district has preserved a respect for parental authority in “allowing” them to opt out of the program. Personally, that satisfies me. When the school is delving into programs that aren’t what I consider strictly educational, I want the choice to have my kids participate or not, simply because I am the parent. I’m sure there are crappy parents out there that these kinds of well-intended programs are meant to help- or, rather- there are kids out there who have the misfortune to have crappy parents that these non-educational programs are meant to help, but I think there must be more effective ways to demonstrate the importance of good health to school kids.

I would like to see the school district go further in addressing the nutritional content of school lunches. A quick glance at the menu reveals many healthy choices, but overall, it’s still fairly carb-heavy. Let’s make noticeable changes in approach and action, rather than gamble on yet another awareness campaign.


Paul Simpson

I wasn’t aware of the BMI notice in the packet of school forms sent home at the beginning of the school year until my fellow Yappers told me during a brainstorming session. I guess I just signed it, assuming it was part of the standard information collected each year.

I don’t get all worked up when it comes to things some take as an invasion of privacy.  For example, Stop and Shop can track my shopping habits when I scan my loyalty card so that little brown box can spit out coupons it believes I will like based on previous purchases, because it has no impact on me.  The coupons wind up in the recycling bin and I’m only buying what’s on my list anyway.  At least some programmer stays employed, I don’t have to battle The Basket, and I get my Shell gas points.

How I feel about the collection of BMI data really depends on for what it will be used.  If the BMI data is noted and put in my kids’ file, I don’t have a problem with it.  Go ahead and use it in a BMI report with pie charts and French fry graphs comparing my kids’ BMI to those of their classmates, kids the same age in the state, or even on a national level.

Now, if the BMI data is cross-referenced by the NutriKids system and a siren wails when a husky lad purchases a chocolate chip cookie, I think it’s a problem. 

I’m mostly indifferent about it, but I do think tracking BMI is outside the purview of the schools.  The only one I want advising me about my kids’ weight or BMI is their doctor.  I’m happy with the level of medical care provided by the school nurses—no one stops a nosebleed like Mrs. Crispo at the Woodville!  The nurses have enough to do without being under some directive to monitor BMI.  (I bet there’s some sort of Muffin Top Reporting Form in the works to break the news to parents of their child’s expanding waistline.) 

It’s not really an issue for my kids, but if I ever receive a letter from the schools about either of them having a weight problem, I’m stapling it to a school lunch menu and mailing it back to the sender. Even though I pack my kids’ lunches, those in glass super-carbohydrate-heavy-serving houses should not cast stones.  You can talk to me about responsible, BMI-friendly food choices when nachos are no longer considered an entrée.

Anne Gilroy October 11, 2012 at 01:34 PM
I loved Paul's idea and I think we should all take a preemptive step and send he letter back now attached to a menu and say fix this before you start tracking our kids weight. Nachos as an entree? Really?
Diane Lee October 11, 2012 at 06:34 PM
Their parents and their pediatrian should be the onces concerned about their childs weight not the schools, not the government. Are they only concerned about overweight children what about those underweight may parents are withholding foods as a form of punshment.
Tasha Schlake Festel October 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM
The lunch menu continually amazes me. Crap, crap, and more crap.
Laurie Hunt October 12, 2012 at 01:25 AM
I turned in the form noting they do NOT have permission to weigh, measure or track my children. The school/government can stay out of my childs lunchbox thankyouverymuch.
Erin Schermerhorn October 12, 2012 at 02:14 AM
With elementary schools focusing so much on their bullying prevention program, how can this help?  Massachusetts requires all residents to have health care. This definitely falls into the pediatricians corner. While I am thankful for what the schools do for the students, I think I will leave this for the experts. I agree about the lunches. A plastic bag full of mushy pancakes and a side of syrup is not helping anyone's BMI.


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