Should MCPS put BMI on report cards? YES: Schools should fight obesity

March 11, 2005, midnight | By Monica Huang | 15 years, 10 months ago

In an effort to further the nationwide crusade against obesity, school districts in Pennsylvania, New York and Texas have advocated adding a student's Body Mass Index (BMI) to his or her report card. BMI is a commonly used equation that determines an individual's body fat relative to his or her sex, height, weight and age. Supporters of the policy argue that both parents and students need to be more aware of childhood weight problems, while opponents counter that a student's weight is a private, non-academic issue.

An epidemic is spreading amongst the American youth with no sign of stopping. Fries, ice cream, lack of exercise and television, among other culprits, are leading to an array of health conditions ranging from high blood pressure to heart problems to death. Kids today are heavier than ever " obesity among boys and girls has quadrupled in the last 25 years, according to the American Obesity Association.

It is the responsibility of a school system to educate its students, whether it be in chemistry, algebra or personal health. The future of our youth rests in the hands of our schools. Therefore, it is MCPS's duty to teach its students about obesity as a means of both promoting future healthy choices and changing current unhealthy habits.

Parents should be informed about their child's BMI, and the school is the best and most logical place for this to start. MCPS should adopt legislation similar to that of other districts requiring schools to put student BMI on report cards. Provided that the information remains confidential by mailing report cards home, such actions should be taken now to raise personal health awareness.

Taking students' BMIs is a fairly cheap and easy way for schools to see if their students have weight issues. Since expensive medical evaluation is not feasible, MCPS can use BMIs to estimate the obesity levels of its students. "BMI is the quickest number to tell people where they are," says Rockville pediatrician David Kettl.

Although BMI may not be 100 percent accurate, it gives parents an approximation of their child's health condition. With more information at their disposal, parents can better deal with their child's health.

A strong correlation exists between high childhood BMIs and high adult BMIs years later, says Kettl. Schools should do everything possible to reduce childhood obesity, thereby lowering the risks for future health conditions such as diabetes, cancer and osteoarthritis " all medical conditions associated with increased BMI levels.

Many opponents of such a proposal argue that it is not the school's place to tell parents that their children are overweight. But providing parents with information on their children's health in the form of BMI is similar to giving information in health curriculums under which students are taught about abstinence and contraceptives. By sending home BMI information, MCPS would help solve a growing problem, similar to schools teaching about sexually transmitted diseases.

It is not enough, however, to give a student's BMI to parents and expect them to interpret it on their own. Schools should also send parents information on obesity and give healthier lifestyle suggestions. This can be accomplished through voluntary one-on-one conferences with parents, students and the school nurse.

Also, MCPS should introduce a more rigorous health curriculum with units on obesity and healthy eating. An increase in physical education requirements should be considered to force students to be more active. MCPS can look for guidance to programs like Pennsylvania's East Penn School District, which since 2002 has seen an 18 percent drop in the district's number of overweight students after implementing weight screening programs and a thorough anti-obesity campaign, according to New York's Statewide Center for Healthy Schools web site.

Childhood obesity should not be taken lightly. Schools monitor student achievement and report back to parents through report cards, so why shouldn't schools help parents recognize if their child's health is at risk? It is crucial that MCPS consider the health of its students and join the fight against obesity before it is too late.

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Monica Huang. Monica Huang is finally a HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR in the CAP program and is ready to move on to bigger and better things in life. Counting down the days until graduation and summer, Monica can be found hanging out with friends, watching TV, and dancing. … More »

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