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Old 01-08-2007, 09:52 AM   #1
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Some Parents Angry About Weight "Report Cards"

What do you think, is that appropriate? How far should schools go? Don't the parents already know? Is it none of the school's business- what about drugs and drinking and all that?

What about the issue of girls and eating disorders, I read recently about the correlation between reading diet articles in magazines like Seventeen and the development of eating disorders in young girls. So what effect would such a letter have?

By Associated Press | January 8, 2007

BARNSTABLE -- Almost 140 Hyannis Elementary School students went home last week with letters implying that they might be at risk for becoming underweight or overweight after a height-and-weight screening.

The screening is the result of a federal law that requires schools to implement programs aimed at "wellness." The programs also include vision and hearing tests.

Some parents are angry, The Cape Cod Times reported yesterday. Vicki Elliott, whose 4-foot-tall, 66-pound daughter was sent home with a letter warning that she was "at risk of becoming overweight," said the letter singles out children about a sensitive issue.

And, Elliott said, it's none of the school's business. "She probably can eat healthier, but that's for the doctor and me to decide, not the school nurse," Elliott said.

The school nurse, Stacey Shakel, said the letter had been meant as an education tool, not an insult. The screening determines body mass index; a high number does not necessarily mean a student is overweight, she said, especially for athletes.

"It's simply a red flag, potentially, in relation to chronic diseases," Shakel said.

In addition, state law requires that a school notify parents of children who are overweight or underweight, or who may be at risk of becoming so. About half of the Hyannis school's students got letters.

Elliott's third-grade daughter does not think she's overweight, Elliott said, adding that reading the letter upset her. "I don't agree with the policy," she said, "but if you're going to do it, don't send [the letter] home with the kids."

The Barnstable school district conducts height and weight screening on students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Superintendent Patricia Grenier said that the district could not afford to mail all the letters, and that in the end there's a payoff.

"Healthy children learn better," she said
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Old 01-08-2007, 10:01 AM   #2
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Public school has always been a place to promote health. We had sight/ hearing tests, scoliosis tests, the presidential physical fitness things(can't remember the real name), etc. Would these parents be upset if they came home with a letter saying the child may be at risk for scoliosis?

The problem is people equate weight with appearance and forget sometimes it's a health issue before it's anything else.
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Old 01-08-2007, 10:04 AM   #3
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Hmm, this is a touchy issue, because weight is something that is so personal.

However, at my university, we have a sort of referral type system too. When I worked in residence life, my staff would inform me if they noticed certain behaviors attributed with eating disorders, and we would confront the student. Not in a big scary way, but have a talk with them. So...this sort of keeping tabs on students certainly happens in college. This is the first time I'm hearing about it happening in K-12.

Also, from my teaching K-12 experience, I was alarmed to see how many of my students would not see their parent(s) on a day to day basis. What if the parents have no idea what is going on in their child's lives? What if they hardly see their child because they are holding down multiple jobs, and are therefore unable to notice the typical eating disorder behaviors? Notifying the parent would definitely make them aware of something they perhaps didn't know.

I don't know. I can understand why some parents AND students would think that the school is crossing the line. I myself am not fond of intrusion in my personal life. But on the otherhand, eating disorders are alive and well among today's young adults and youth. The more we can help these young people, the better.
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Old 01-08-2007, 10:08 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar
The problem is people equate weight with appearance and forget sometimes it's a health issue before it's anything else.
the concern for appearance, or to fit into a specific group is often the reason behind some eating disorders. i barely escaped high school alive, but i do remember how socially competitive and cruel it was.
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Old 01-08-2007, 10:40 AM   #5
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I think it's a good idea. It's no secret this country has a severe obesity problem. Making kids aware that a healthy lifestyle is important is a good thing.

The BMI is not really the best indicator of health though.
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Old 01-08-2007, 10:57 AM   #6
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If you just go by the figures the BMI isn't the best indicator, indeed.

But if you take the BMI and look at the person, you can see whether he is overweight due to his athletic body and training, or due to an eating disorder.

I think as long as the school cantines provide their students with coke and fast food or put vending machines all over the place the shouldn't wonder why more and more children become overweight.

And I'm sure, whatever schools would do to prevent children from becoming over- or underweight, there always will be some parents upset. So there is no easy way for schools to help children on this issue.

You also can't always prevent under- or overweight. I myself for example am underweight. That's basically inherited from my father who was underweight himself when he was my age.
I'm eating normally, but still don't gain so much weight to become normal weight.
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Old 01-08-2007, 12:49 PM   #7
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I would support it. I can't see why it's a bad thing? If parents have a problem with it, they can go ahead and ignore it.

When I was in school, we constantly had eye tests, hearing tests, fitness tests in PE twice a year, scoliosis tests, etc. I had to be re-checked for scoliosis several times and my parents were notified. Honestly, having to take of my shirts was more uncomfortable than being weighed, but otherwise my parents would never have known I had a problem. Same with my eyes, a letter was sent home and I got glasses. For two years I'd been coping notes from friends because I didn't understand why I couldn't read the board like everyone else, but was too scared to say anything. A quick eye test, note to parents, and my terrible near-sightedness was resolved.

Yes, weight can be a sensitive issue, but it can also be a huge risk factor for very serious health concerns. If parents are concerned about weight vs. appearance (like others mentioned) then send the kid to the school counsellor for help. If a kid is at risk for ANY health problems and the school knows because of routine testing, the parents should be notified.
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Old 01-08-2007, 01:55 PM   #8
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That's right. If they didn't notify the parents, some would ask "Why didn't we get informed?"
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Old 01-08-2007, 01:57 PM   #9
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But can the kids ignore it? What about what it can potentially do to their self esteem and eating habits? This article from today's NY Times talks a bit about that. Seems to me there's a better way to handle this whole issue than weight report cards that a child can see and read. An 8 year old should not be taking up carrot sticks and weigh ins on her own, and a 6 year old should not be afraid to eat because she thinks her teachers are chastising her for overeating.

BLOSSBURG, Pa. — Six-year-old Karlind Dunbar barely touched her dinner, but not for time-honored 6-year-old reasons. The pasta was not the wrong shape. She did not have an urgent date with her dolls.

The problem was the letter Karlind discovered, tucked inside her report card, saying that she had a body mass index in the 80th percentile. The first grader did not know what “index” or “percentile” meant, or that children scoring in the 5th through 85th percentiles are considered normal, while those scoring higher are at risk of being or already overweight.

Yet she became convinced that her teachers were chastising her for overeating.

Since the letter arrived, “my 2-year-old eats more than she does,” said Georgeanna Dunbar, Karlind’s mother, who complained to the school and is trying to help her confused child. “She’s afraid she’s going to get in trouble,” Ms. Dunbar said.

The practice of reporting students’ body mass scores to parents originated a few years ago as just one tactic in a war on childhood obesity that would be fought with fresh, low-fat cafeteria offerings and expanded physical education. Now, inspired by impressive results in a few well-financed programs, states including Delaware, South Carolina and Tennessee have jumped on the B.M.I. bandwagon, turning the reports — in casual parlance, obesity report cards — into a new rite of childhood.

Legislators in other states, including New York, have proposed them as well, while some individual school districts have adopted the practice.

Here, in the rural Southern Tioga School District, the schools distribute the state-mandated reports even as they continue to serve funnel cakes and pizza for breakfast. Some students have physical education for only half the school year, even though 34 percent of kindergartners were overweight or at risk for it, according to 2003-4 reports.

Even health authorities who support distributing students’ scores worry about these inconsistent messages, saying they could result in eating disorders and social stigma, misinterpretation of numbers that experts say are confusing, and a sense of helplessness about high scores.

“It would be the height of irony if we successfully identified overweight kids through B.M.I. screening and notification while continuing to feed them atrocious quality meals and snacks, with limited if any opportunities for phys ed in school,” said Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital Boston.

The farmers and foundry workers here in north-central Pennsylvania have different ideas about weight than those of the medical authorities who set the standards (the percentiles are based on pre-1980 measurements because the current population of children is too heavy to use as a reference). Here, the local pizza chain is called Pudgie’s. Nearby Mansfield’s fanciest restaurant serves its grilled chicken salad piled with fries.

Nearly 60 percent of eighth graders in the district scored in the 85th percentile or higher in 2003-4; more than a quarter had scores in the 95th percentile or higher, meaning they were officially overweight.

As it is for adults, the body mass index for children is a ratio of height to weight, but the juvenile numbers are also classified by age and sex, and the word “obese” is not used.

Holly Berguson, the homecoming queen at North Penn Junior-Senior High School here, wears a size 20, a fact cited by her many admirers as proof of this community’s generous attitude toward weight, its proud indifference to the “Baywatch” bodies on television.

“I don’t care how big I am,” said Holly, 17, who is insulin resistant, a condition that often precedes Type 2 diabetes. “It’s not what you look like, it’s who you are.”

Part of the rationale behind the reports is that they are an extension of the height and weight checks that schools have traditionally conducted.

But here, the letters sent home with report cards have been a shock. Many parents threw them out, outraged to be told how much their children should weigh or unconvinced that children who look just fine by local standards are too large by official ones. Seventh graders traded scores during lunch periods. And more than a few children, like Karlind, no longer wanted to eat, students and parents said.

This year, Pennsylvania requires body mass index notification for students in kindergarten through eighth grades. Holly will graduate before it is required at the high school next fall. Her confidence about her body — she is a lifeguard and wears a bathing suit without embarrassment — says something about how the perception of childhood obesity has changed from earlier generations.

Among children, teasing and weight have always gone together, but now, says Doris Sargent, principal of Mansfield’s elementary school, there are so many overweight children that “you can’t pick on everybody.” Here, two kinds of children are teased about their weight: the hugely fat and the thin.

Children who are merely big “pick on skinnier kids because they don’t like their own weight,” said Cassie Allen, a wiry ninth grader at Mansfield Junior-Senior High School who has been taunted as anorexic, as she and her friends sat over a lunch of brown-edged iceberg lettuce piled with artificial bacon bits and neat discs of chicken parmesan in the cafeteria.

A few miles away, at North Penn Junior-Senior High School, a cluster of bleary-eyed girls gathered before the start of classes, complaining that the letters chided them for a situation they were helpless to fix.

“It would be different if we had something to do rather than eat,” said one, Shauna Gerow.

On a recent school trip to New York, the girls felt like visitors from a different, chubbier planet, they said.

“They’re all this big,” said Cassie Chase, holding her arms close together, “and we’re all this big,” she said, flinging them wide open.

The letters made some recipients feel the same way but left them unsure what to do about it.

Karen Sick, food services director for the school district, has been phasing in healthier foods despite budgetary obstacles and students who prefer white bread over whole wheat. The school district has revamped its menus, eliminating Gatorade and the powdered sugar from the funnel cakes. But it still sends a nutritionally mixed message: birthday cupcakes are discouraged while cafeterias sell ice cream sandwiches and Rice Krispie treats, which some students buy five at a time.

The district’s cafeterias recently introduced kiwi and field greens, which drew enthusiastic reviews, but because of the high cost, they are now back to canned fruit and iceberg lettuce. Officials, while trying hard to address the concerns, acknowledge that change may take several more years.

Along the same lines, all students receive some form of physical education each year. But some students live 45 minutes from school: by the time they get home, it is too dark and cold to play outside. And the administrators point out that many children with weight problems also need tutoring after school, so they have to choose between extra help and team sports.

School administrators here say they do not have the resources of their counterparts in Arkansas, which slowed the rate of increase of its childhood obesity using money drawn from a state tobacco settlement windfall.

Nor can they afford exotic gym fare like the Pilates and kayaking now offered in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where high school students who had scores in the 95th percentile and above have lost an average of eight pounds a semester.

To successfully change students’ eating habits, schools would need to counsel each child and provide “really high-quality nutrition and physical activity assessments,” said Marlene Schwartz, director of research and school programs at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. “How often are they eating fruits and vegetables? How much soda are they drinking?”

Christina Bové is the mother of three children who attend the Blossburg schools. She clutched a picture of her 9-year-old son, Christian, in a bathing suit, to prove that he was not “at risk of overweight,” as his 92nd percentile score had indicated.

The letter was inaccurate — and useless, Ms. Bové said. “The school provides us with this information with no education about how to use it or what it means,” she said.

Ms. Bové is more worried about her daughter Alora, age 8, who has lately taken up carrot sticks and constant weigh-ins. “She walks out of the bathroom saying, ‘I weigh 68 pounds, and none of you can say that,’ ” Ms. Bové said.

For the kind of young woman who counts every kernel of no-butter popcorn, the index reports can be dangerous, some experts said.

“A letter from school feels evaluative,” said Kelly M. Vitousek, a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii and a specialist in eating disorders. Declaring a weight healthy “without knowing the background of how the kid got there, you’re affirming kids who have actively done something to suppress weight,” she said.

The practice of reporting body mass index scores in schools has gone from pilot program to mass weigh-in despite “no solid research” on either its physical or psychological impact, and “no controlled randomized trial,” said Ms. Schwartz of Yale. “Entire states are adopting a policy that has not been tested.”

Individual school districts like Miami’s and New York City’s are issuing personalized fitness reports for students that list their abdominal crunches and the pace of their one-mile runs along with their body mass index scores.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected soon to issue a policy statement on the reports, providing guidelines about their benefits and risks, an agency spokesperson said. Meanwhile, supporters of the reports said that some of the problems experienced here — shocked parents, uncomfortable revelations — are precisely the point.

“If families had an accurate perception of the issue, we wouldn’t need B.M.I. screening,” said Dr. Ludwig of Children’s Hospital Boston. “There are so many overweight children that perceptions are getting distorted about what’s normal and healthy.”

While the body mass index is not a perfect test, Dr. Ludwig said it is an effective, low-cost screening tool. He cited a 2005 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine that suggested the current generation of children might have shorter life expectancies than their parents.

“The consequences of childhood obesity,” he said, “are too great to ignore.”
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Old 01-08-2007, 02:08 PM   #10
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If they catch bad eating habits early in childhood, the child stands a better chance of having a healthy life. I can't think why parents would object to this.
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Old 01-08-2007, 02:54 PM   #11
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I was always under the impression that if you were overweight, fat or obese that you weren't eating healthfully or correctly. I'm a little bit overweight and the reason I am is because I'm eating a lot of shitty foods like pizza, chinese, Checkers, Wendy's and Burger King. I did stop eating White Castle, Taco Bell and McDonald's though, so that's a start. Anyway, these reports should be a wake up call to parents to more closely monitor their child's eating habits.
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Old 01-08-2007, 04:27 PM   #12
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It's pretty frightening that so many fast food chains are doing so well.
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Old 01-08-2007, 05:33 PM   #13
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I don't think sending these letters home with the children was a good idea; I did notice where the school said it couldn't afford to mail them and don't really have a better solution in mind, but still I think that wasn't the way to go. On the other hand, the "so what" attitude some of the parents quoted apparently took towards the letter isn't an encouraging sign either.
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the percentiles are based on pre-1980 measurements because the current population of children is too heavy to use as a reference
Pretty sad. When I go to pick up our son at his elementary school, I'm often struck by how chubby so many of the kids are compared to when I was in grade school. Not markedly taller or stronger-looking, just markedly plumper. It doesn't bode well for future public health trends when so many kids that young are already that overweight, and I have a hard time understanding why more parents aren't responding by limiting the quantity and content of their kids' snacks and meals, exercising with them etc. Of course it's better to not let them get to that stage in the first place, but being too afraid or unconcerned to do anything about it once they are doesn't make sense to me; the older they get, the harder it will be for parents to take charge of the situation in a positive way.
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Old 01-08-2007, 06:21 PM   #14
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Seems like a good idea to let the parents know, although if they didn't notice their kid was overweight then they're not likely the kind of parent that's going to pay much attention the letter anyway. I do think sending it home with the kids was a bad idea, they have to find some other way. I'm sorry but when kids are that young and don't fully understand what they did wrong, may feel like they're getting in trouble, could equate it to a report card that they'll be punished for if they do poorly, compare with their friends, etc. I just think it's a really, really bad message to send when kids are so young and impressionable.
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Old 01-09-2007, 12:05 AM   #15
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I think they should look inwards, rather then laying the blame at the feet of children saying 'oh your in this percentile, you're getting fat, and soon you could be really fat, and NO ONE likes little fatties'

Serving shitty food, only having PE for half a year, placing so much emphasis on academic smarts (children spending all lunch in the library or some club rather then outside playing) not letting kids be kids.

I also think ranking kids, and using the BMI (which is frankly out of date and a really stupid generalisation) to place a 'tag' on them extremely detrimental. Until we seperate being healthy from being stick thin, and seperate the need for being healthy over the notion of 'thin is beautiful' then I think this is a wrong idea. If a student is vastly overweight, have the parents come in to talk to the school nurse, or a referral to a peaditrician. We were weighted at the start of each year, along with other tests/injections (*shudder*) and for one of my friends who was very skinny, her parents had to come in to talk about eating habits and stuff, turned out she was just playing too much sport and not eating enough. These things can be easily fxed, but i truly believe if schools are going to point the finger at shitty parents, they need to remember they have students for 6 hours a day, and could really give them beneficial exercise and good food if they really tried.
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