Monday, February 12, 2007
Medical Reports: HEALTHCAST: BMI
Many schools are joining the fight against childhood obesity by issuing a new kind of report cards, but not everyone thinks it's a good idea. Elizabeth Cohen reports with both sides.
WSVM -- Jasmine Tallman is a happy 8-year-old.
A straight-A student, who loves music, she's always enjoyed school.
But when she got a note a few weeks ago addressed to her mother, she got worried.
Vicki Elliot: "To receive a letter from the teacher usually says, 'I got in trouble,' and she wanted to know what it said."
What Jasmine and a few of her other third grade classmates received was not a note saying she'd done something wrong -- it was a letter, telling her mother that Jasmine, who weighs 66 pounds, was at risk of becoming obese.
Vicki Elliot: "I was surprised."
Like many school districts across the country, Jasmine's in Barnstable County, Massachusetts is weighing and measuring students to determine their Body Mass Index, or BMI.
BMI is a person's body weight relative to height, and it can be used to determine if people are at a healthy weight.
At Jasmine's school, they handed children notes if they had a very low or high BMI. This infuriated her mother, who said the note accomplished nothing -- except humiliating her daughter.
Vicki Elliot: "Why was she receiving a letter, when not everybody got one?"
In seven states, schools are required to send home BMI scores, along with information advising parents to talk to their pediatrician. Thirteen others are considering the same.
The theory: That these scores could be a wake-up call for parents.
Kenneth Stanton: "It's social engineering. As objectionable as that sounds, we are trying to influence people's attitudes."
Former Arkansas Governor, Michael Huckabee, who lost 110 pounds himself, was the first governor to push through BMI legislation back in 2003.
He said, for the most part, parents were accepting of the scores. He says the state has seen its statewide childhood obesity numbers start to level off -- and he credits the BMI report cards.
Michael Huckabee: "Now, we're not where we want to be, but we've stopped the runaway train."
But some parents say their child's weight is none of the school's business. In fact, Jasmine's mom says her pediatrician thinks Jasmine's weight is just fine. She's worried the BMI report card might encourage her daughter to develop an eating disorder. Society already tells girls that thin is in.
Vicki Elliot: "You go to the newsstand, skinny women on the front of all the covers. You see it enough that I want her to be healthy because it's the way to be, not because it means being skinny."
But those who follow obestiy trends say now's the time for parents to realize their kids are suffering.
Kenneth Stanton: "Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, there are so many other related adverse health consequences that are expensive and serious that seem to follow on with this weight issue."
And health experts also point out this is the first generation that's expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents -- because of weight -- and that BMI report cards could help parents stop obesity before it kills their children.