Childhood Obesity: Weighing in on Schools Weighing Children


Childhood Obesity. Boy standing near scale.When I was in school, give or take some forty years ago, there were perhaps three “fat” kids out of a class of 250 people. I am friends with one of them on Facebook. Today, he is a handsome man who still refers to himself as “the fat kid”. His childhood stigma never left him even though his weight has.

He once posted on Facebook a group picture taken in elementary school. True, he was much heavier than the rest of the kids in the picture. However, it struck me that today he would be considered “average”.

The Center of Disease Control posts the following statistics on childhood obesity on their website:

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012.
  • The percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.
  • In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

In an effort to, shall we say, inspire students to watch their weight and get fit, twenty-five states now weigh their students in order to monitor population data on obesity rates. “B.M.I. letters” are sent home telling parents what their child’s Body Mass Index is. This is a calculation based on height and weight. The letters note if the student is underweight, healthy, overweight or obese.

The program has been incredibly ineffective. Students have felt shamed about their weight as they stand on the scale in front of others and their weight is called out for the secretary to write down. Many parents and students alike do not really care about their weight and do not plan to do anything about it.

In addition, not a single district has noticed weight loss based on these letters. In fact, one school district considered the program a “mild success” because students didn’t continue to gain weight but rather, their weight remained relatively stable.

The disappointing results highlight the challenges schools face when addressing obesity. Reflecting back to my good ‘ol school days, gym was a required class as was recess. We did calisthenics, learned various sports, performed gymnastics and swam.

Recess involved running around, climbing on jungle gyms, playing kick ball and baseball. There was no rest for the weary because we weren’t weary. We were active children who were relatively fit and burned off steam without even knowing that was what we were doing.

I distinctly remember participating in the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition when I was in sixth grade. That fitness assessment program was looked at as “fun competition” by most of us. Badges were awarded to those who made the grade, which most of us did.

But, today, students lead sedentary lives spending most of their day sitting in school, at computers, or watching T.V. In his book, “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us”, Michael Moss shares why and how we have gotten so fat.

Inactivity coupled with eating processed foods which have been scientifically created to assure our addiction to them has been the downfall of American health. Sending letters home telling the weight of one’s child will never help reach the goal of physical fitness.

Shaming has never encouraged weight loss. In fact, this can lead to eating disorders including binge eating and anorexia and create body image problems.

So, what can we do to encourage healthy body image and mass?

  1. Ban vending machines from schools which dispel sugared drinks and non-nutritious food.
  2. Restrict school parties and encourage serving fruits and vegetables.
  3. Get families to join the bandwagon. Sponsor nutrition education evenings and physical activity programs.
  4. Assure that your school has a top-quality gym program with properly trained teachers.
  5. Require activity during recess and forbid cell phone use.
  6. Bring healthful cooking classes back into schools.
  7. Teach children about their body and what it needs to remain healthy and fit.

What ideas do you have to help stem the obesity epidemic? We’d like to hear from you.

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