Monday, January 08, 2007

I Got An 'F' in Starving

Well, it's a new year. Report cards are a memory and grounded kids emerge from their prisons.

Why are these kids grounded? The usual: an F in Science, a C in English. Oh, and a Body Mass Index of 95%.

Yep, that's right. There are some states and counties that give out Obesity Report Cards along with scholastic report cards every semester. In north-central Pennsylvania, the report is a folded piece of paper within the scholastic report card. It gives a percentage and, it seems, that's about it.

The BMI is calculated by height and weight, with additions in the juvenile BMI for gender and age. It means nothing to most people and is doing more harm than good.

Not only do children see a score of 80% and stop eating (see Karlind Dunbar, 6, in the NYT article), but parents are equally at a loss. How are they supposed to help their kids when the schools are doing nothing but hand out numbers? For lunch, iceberg lettuce, canned fruit, and ice cream sandwiches. For dinner? A letter telling you to stop eating junk (or, in the case of some, to stop eating).

from left to right, kids from the article: Cassie Allen, Holly Burgenson, and Karlind Dunbar

The BMI notes are not just for children. The reports currently go home with kindergarten through 8th graders. Next year, high schoolers will get the lovely addition to their current report card headaches. In a school district with a fairly healthy attitude towards obesity, these "report cards" are even more damaging than normal. They are creating insecurity and self-doubt where there was none.

And, on a personal note, the thought of being evaluated my entire life based on my weight makes me cringe. Can you imagine what that does to someone's self-image? Can anyone tell me what good this does?

Brief Note: I do think the BMI is a useful tool in some cases. I simply have a problem when a percentage is thrown around without context or caution. If schools/governments feel kids are overweight, they need to give them healthier food and more physical activity. A number isn't going to remedy anything.

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